Big win for public health: Johnson & Johnson to stop selling iconic baby powder in the U.S. & Canada due to asbestos contamination, but more needed

MAY 21, 2020

Janet Nudelman, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners

In a stunning victory for public health, Johnson & Johnson announced it will stop selling its iconic baby powder in the U.S and Canada. J&J’s surprise move came in response to both a decline in sales and growing consumer outrage over the asbestos-ovarian cancer link and the documented presence of asbestos in some J&J baby powder. Talc can become contaminated by asbestos when it is mined because naturally occurring veins of asbestos can run through Talc deposits. Eighty years of inadequate federal regulation of cosmetic safety and lax testing by manufacturers have allowed asbestos contaminated talc beauty and personal care products to make it onto store shelves without FDA oversight or review.

Asbestos-contaminated baby powder is just the tip of the iceberg of the problem: asbestos is showing up in everything from talc-based J&J baby powder, blush and bronzer to eye make-up in both adult and kids cosmetics. Outrageously, even though there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, the FDA has no legal authority to force companies to remove cosmetics contaminated with asbestos from store shelves. Instead, it can only issue consumer safety alerts and request that companies voluntarily recall unsafe products, as was the case after recent FDA product testing documented the presence of asbestos contamination in 9 cosmetic products.

J&J did the right thing to when it finally decided to stop selling its talc-based baby powder in North America, but more action is needed from the cosmetic giant to protect both low income and global communities. It is a double standard and simply not okay for J&J to allow conventional retailers and Dollar Stores to sell down their inventory of talc based baby powder, or engage in downstream dumping to other global markets, given the well-documented scientific evidence linking asbestos to cancer and mesothelioma. J&J should err on the side of precaution, given what they have known for decades about the possible contamination of talc by asbestos, one of the deadliest chemicals on the planet.

Companies like J&J have shirked their responsibility for cosmetic safety for too long and have too much sway over federal regulators when it comes to protecting the public from cancer-causing chemicals in the beauty and personal care products we use every day. That is why we are also calling on the U.S. Congress to support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019, introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, to ensure everyone has access to safe cosmetics, free of asbestos and other highly toxic chemicals of concern. Call on your congressional representatives to support this critical cosmetic safety reform bill today!


Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) is the leading national science-based policy and advocacy organization working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation.


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