These were the lawsuits that rocked the beauty industry: hundreds of people sued giant beauty conglomerate, Johnson & Johnson, over asbestos contamination in its beloved baby powder.
Johnson’s White Baby Powder has been a staple in beauty and cleansing regimens for decades. You most likely have grown up with it in your home or at the very least seen it everywhere in drugstores. The ingredient in its formula that many people have claimed caused serious illness is talc.
Talc, a natural mineral that is composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen, can be found in many cosmetic and personal care products. According to the FDA, talc may be used in cosmetics to absorb moisture, prevent makeup from caking, make facial makeup opaque, or improve the feel of a product.
But the use of talc in makeup has been questionable since the 1960s when some studies linked its use to cancer. Recent studies, however, dispute those claims and the FDA is continuously researching whether links to cancer are conclusive. It also has been testing talc for asbestos in cosmetics, with questions about possible contamination ongoing since the 1970s.
This all came to a head when in 2018 when Reuters reported that the beauty company was aware that its baby powder sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos from 1971 to the early 2000s. Executives along with doctors, lawyers, and scientists failed to disclose these findings to the public and continued selling it. More beauty lovers are now aware, thanks to HBO Max’s Not So Pretty docuseries that debuted in April 2022.
After multiple lawsuits, it was then reported by NPR that Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women (and their families) who claimed the powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. In 2019, NPR also reported that the company had to pay a woman in California $29 million after she claimed that the baby powder caused her mesothelioma. The company has denied any link and still faces thousands of other similar lawsuits. In 2021, the company announced that the White Baby Powder will no longer be made with talc in the U.S. and Canada. (Though it may still be found in products sold globally).
If this has given you some pause on using makeup products containing talc, you’re not alone. Many brands have been going the talc-free route to ensure cleaner formulations and safer use. (Though it is important to note, there is no FDA regulation on “clean” beauty. Most brands are conducting their own research and setting these clean standards for themselves.)
Interested in learning more about alternatives? See below for 15 talc-free makeup brands.