In 1894, Johnson & Johnson introduced what would become one of America’s most iconic staples: Johnson’s Baby Powder. It quickly earned cult status the world over. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The simple white bottle was a staple in most American households for decades. Moms used it on babies after diaper changes, and on themselves to care for their most intimate parts.
J&J’s specific formula was made primarily of crushed talc. The mineral keeps skin dry and prevents diaper rash. For much of the 20th century, companies promoted talc as harmless, a naturally occurring wonder mineral. And yet, talc deposits are naturally found intermingled with asbestos deposits, raising concerns that talc products can be contaminated with the minute but many different forms of toxic asbestos.
So where was the accountability? Johnson and Johnson did test its products, but those methods were skewed from the start. J&J only tested a small sample of their products for many years. Then, when even those small samples did not give them the results they desired, Johnson and Johnson continued to manipulate, downplay and ignore the results of those tests for decades.
The earliest reports of asbestos in J&J talc products date back to the late 1950s. They describe contaminants in talc classified as asbestos from J&J’s Italian supplier as fibrous and “acicular,” or needle-like. But nothing changed.
J&J didn’t tell the FDA that at least three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 had found asbestos in its talc – in one case at levels reported as “rather high.” Instead the company told the FDA that no asbestos was “detected in any sample” of talc produced between December 1972 and October 1973. The cover- up continued.
It was only in 1980, after consumer advocates raised concerns that talc contained traces of asbestos, that the company developed a cornstarch alternative. But they still didn’t stop making their talc-laden bestseller.
In 2017, J&J began to face lawsuits over the scientific evidence showing a statistically significant association between the frequent use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer. Since then, juries across the nation have awarded billions of dollars to women and families after hearing evidence that Johnson & Johnson knowingly failed to warn about the inherent dangers of talcum powder use.
In May of 2020, the company announced that it would discontinue the manufacturing and distribution of its legendary talc-based Baby Powder, citing a decline in sales, the COVID-19 pandemic and mounting litigation as the reasons for the decision.
It’s important to note that this move will only affect sales in the U.S. and Canada, and the company plans to continue selling talc-based products in other countries.
If you’re looking for talc alternatives, more information on talc, studies on talc and ovarian cancer, Truth About Talc has some incredible information. They exist to help end the use of talc, educate the public about the dangers of talc-based products and shed light on the link between talc and ovarian cancer.
If you want some common talc-free alternatives, check out this post.