This past week Johnson and Johnson announced a voluntary recall of their baby powders as well as a cease of putting talc, a mineral linked to asbestos in their products. Considering their most recent suit back in 2018 that awarded victims a total of 4.7 billion dollars its safe to assume this was long overdue. Johnson and Johnson is one of the many big companies that incorporate Talc in their products. Talc is an ingredient used by many cosmetics ranging from baby powder to blush. Talc is linked to asbestos and in recent years cases have come out linking talc to various forms of cancer.
Talc has been used by various cosmetic companies for decades. Talc is a mineral that focuses on absorbing moisture. Talc has a range of use including the production of creating tablets, absorb moisture, prevent caking, to make facial makeup opaque, or to improve the feel of a product. Talc and asbestos are typically linked together due to their close proximity when mined. Unlike talc, however, asbestos is a known carcinogen. There is the potential for contamination of talc with asbestos.
In March 2020, the FDA announced the results of their sampling assignment with AMA Analytical Services testing talc-containing cosmetics and products for the presence of asbestos. In this test, several cosmetics including big names such as Kylie Cosmetics, Johnson and Johnson, and NYX were tested. In this study brands such as Claire’s, and City Color tested positive for asbestos in their cosmetic products resulting in a recall of those products.
Current laws enact the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), meaning cosmetic products and ingredients, with the exception of color additives, do not have to undergo FDA review or approval before they go on the market. However, the FDA requires that cosmetics must be properly labeled, and they must be safe for use by consumers under labeled or customary conditions of use. At the same time, current laws do not require cosmetic companies to share safety information with FDA. The FDA states that they also monitor for potential safety problems with cosmetic products on the market and will take action when needed to protect public health. If the FDA wants to take action against a cosmetic/product on the market, they need sound scientific data to show that it is harmful under its intended use. However, there are loopholes.
For decades, many big companies including Johnson and Johnson funded biased science and lobbying the government to avoid regulating their products or labeling them as cancer-causing. Big corps such as Johnson and Johnson lead studies and hire scientists to be published in ‘credible scientific journals’ to convince consumers that their product’s link to health issues is inconclusive. These scientists often appear to be reputable meaning that they are credential people but they typically work for consulting firms whose business model is to provide any result for their client. By using these tactics, cosmetic companies have avoided the FDA and the National Toxicology Program from labeling their products containing asbestos or is cancer-causing.
As mentioned before, Johnson and Johnson faced a major lawsuit back in 2018 ending in them paying out 4.7 billion dollars. Johnson and Johnson were sued by 22 women claiming their talc-containing baby powder was directly linked to their/ or deceased family member’s ovarian cancer. The giant denied that their product ever contained asbestos. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples, including J&J, from 2009 to 2010. It found no asbestos in any of them. However, the prosecution lawyer told the Missouri court that the FDA and Johnson & Johnson had used flawed testing methods.
Right now the regulatory system, specifically the FDA, is built on a legal structure where you have to prove certain things. Even though philosophically, it should be protecting people on the basis of the best available evidence, these big corporations know that by introducing doubt and by questioning some of the studies that regulators use, it could delay a regulatory proceeding for years.