- Johnson & Johnson said new tests found no sign of asbestos in talc baby powder.
- But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had previously found trace amounts of the carcinogen.
- A lot of the baby powder is now being recalled.
Pharmaceutical goods company Johnson & Johnson announced Tuesday that 15 new tests from a bottle of baby powder previously tested by the FDA found no traces of asbestos.
The announcement is the latest of a line of headlines surrounding concerns over potential health risks associated with the company’s popular brand of talcum based baby powder products.
“Rigorous and third-party testing confirms there is no asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder. We stand by the safety of our product,” the company said in a public statement.
This comes after the company recalled 33,000 bottles of their talc baby powder after regulators discovered trace amounts of asbestos, a substance that can pose serious health threats like cancer, in a single bottle earlier this month, according to an
In an email statement to Healthline, the company said that “the recall process continues” even after the latest announcement of the new test results.
For its part, the FDA stands by its own test results of the original bottle in question.
All of the attention generated around that test has raised concerns among consumers: Just how safe is it to use this kind of baby powder?
It’s a worry that led major retailers like Rite Aid, Walmart, and CVS to announce last week that they would stop stocking their shelves with Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
For those unsure of what the health concerns mean, it all comes back to the presence of asbestos, which is an umbrella term given to a group of six minerals that can be found in products used for industrial or automotive construction.
While asbestos exposure doesn’t always pose a health danger, depending on how much of it you come in contact with, you could be at risk for conditions like asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs), lung cancer, and mesothelioma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Asbestos Nation reports that exposure to the substance leads to anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 deaths in the United States each year.
The saga surrounding this current recall comes in the midst of lawsuits from thousands of women filed against Johnson & Johnson.
The legal action comes after these consumers claim using the company’s talcum powder products resulted in cancer.
Last year, a jury awarded 22 women and their families $4.69 billion. The women said using Johnson & Johnson asbestos-contaminated products contributed to their ovarian cancer diagnoses, The New York Times reported.
Johnson & Johnson says it “has a rigorous testing standard in place to ensure its cosmetic talc is safe. Thousands of tests over the past 40 years, including FDA’s own testing as recently as last month, repeatedly confirm that Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos,” according to a public statement.
If you regularly buy these products, how much of a concern should you have?
Dr. Jacqueline Moline, professor of occupational medicine, epidemiology, and prevention at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, told Healthline that news of the recall fits with a history of past health concerns over these kinds of products.
It’s a topic Moline is very familiar with. She’s the lead author of a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine that found a direct link between the use of household talc baby powder and malignant mesothelioma.
It’s the first large-scale study of its kind to directly highlight this connection, showing that 33 people developed mesothelioma, a rare cancer that usually affects the lungs, after using talc baby powder.
“The risks have been known by the cosmetic talc industry for decades. What I hope this research does, and the recent recall also will add impetus for, is that people consider talc to being a potential hazard and search for talc-free alternatives, like cornstarch,” she said.
Moline adds that the industry needs to do a better job of highlighting what risks their products could pose to consumers.
“They should at least warn individuals that there is a potential risk, or just sell products that are actually safe,” she said.
Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, a professor of OB-GYN and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), echoes Moline in saying cancer concerns over these kinds of products have long been known.
Woodruff adds that a big problem is the fact that despite these concerns, companies like Johnson & Johnson have continued to look for new ways to market these products, sometimes to especially vulnerable groups.
“The ways they [these companies] market these products focus on communities that are vulnerable to these messages, like African American women, or women who are overweight. The focus might be on whether you have a ‘smell or odor’ and emphasize how the product is ‘fresh and natural,’” she told Healthline. “When you look at these court cases, people are rightly unhappy, especially if they knew more of these potential health risks.”
The current recall news does little to quell skepticism over these companies. In an Oct. 3 deposition during a trial involving a man who claims his cancer resulted from using Johnson & Johnson talc baby powder, the company’s CEO, Alex Gorsky, said, “We unequivocally believe that our talc and our baby powder does not contain asbestos,” according to Reuters.
Just 13 days later, the FDA test results that spurred the recall were announced.
Woodruff stresses that no matter what, a carcinogenic material like asbestos shouldn’t be a contaminant in any of these powders.
She says the current furor around the lawsuits could result in more rigorous regulation efforts.
Woodruff adds that using talc baby powder on children has been discouraged for years now, and that the current attention around the lawsuits and the recall is a “good thing” to continue to highlight this awareness.
Other baby powders contain cornstarch, which hasn’t been linked to asbestos exposure.
When it comes to adults and what they choose to purchase, Woodruff says it gets a little trickier.
“Deciding what personal care products to use is a personal, sensitive decision. The big issue is the presence of these systemic structures, these systemic messages in society that influence people to take certain actions over what products they buy.
“When you have messaging from Johnson & Johnson using code words for certain communities like ‘fresh and clean,’ especially to communities like the African American community, you’re giving negative, sometimes racist messages that could force people to feel they need to make certain decisions,” Woodruff said.
“The bottom line is, there needs to be a way to guarantee a product doesn’t contain toxic elements,” she added.
Woodruff says the focus needs to be getting rid of these materials while not making people “feel guilty” about their purchasing decisions. The blame should rest with the companies, she stresses.
Moline says research like hers is important because it fills gaps in general understanding of how people might come into contact with asbestos in the first place.
She says some people’s doctors might assume that asbestos exposure might only come from working on a construction site or “work with asbestos products,” or living with someone who did. They might not immediately think of the risks posed by using a product like talc baby powder.
“This is even a larger concern for women, who are rarely asked a comprehensive exposure history, both in and out of the workplace,” Moline said.
Pharmaceutical goods giant Johnson & Johnson announced new tests show a single bottle of talc baby powder contained no traces of asbestos. This comes after an FDA test revealed traces of asbestos in the bottle sold online.
That news resulted in the company recalling 33,000 bottles of baby powder. The company says the new test results don’t change the course of the recall, while the FDA stands by their original tests.
Last week, retailers like CVS and Walmart announced they would no longer carry talc baby powder made by Johnson & Johnson.
The news comes in the wake of a series of lawsuits directed against the company over claims that contaminated talc-containing baby powder caused cancer in thousands of consumers who have used these Johnson & Johnson products for years.
Asbestos exposure is linked to cancers like lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Consumers need to be aware of these risks and possibly look into other similar products that might not rely on talc — which can contain these asbestos traces — like powders made of cornstarch.