Despite a product’s best intentions of serving consumer needs, scientific studies and investigative research can bring to light key issues with items we once thought were safe for us to use. Whether by improper labeling or the use of hazardous ingredients, companies often have to defend themselves in court when consumers allege that they have been harmed by certain products.
In recent years, the controversial ingredient talcum powder has been surrounded by conflicting studies, high-profile court cases, and consumer advocacy efforts that indicate when it comes to product safety, companies must strive to always put consumer health and safety first.
What is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder may not be an ingredient you’re familiar with, but you’ve likely come into contact with it due to its prevalence in a wide array of products. It is derived from the clay mineral talc and is often added in powdered form to hygiene products because of its ability to wick away moisture from the skin. As an odorless and absorbent ingredient, talcum powder is an ideal choice for products like deodorants, lotions, baby powder, and makeup.
Why is Talcum Powder Controversial?
Despite its effectiveness as an ingredient, studies have linked talcum powder use to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. This connection between the ingredient and cancer first came to light in 1971 when researchers discovered that 75% of the ovarian cancer tumors studied contained talc particles. More recently, researchers at Harvard University analyzed over 8,500 ovarian cancer cases and determined that talcum powder use for feminine hygiene purposes increased the risk of the disease by 20%.
Although multiple studies indicate this correlation, other studies suggest that there is little to no risk in using the ingredient. Expert organizations have also given their position on the risk. The European Union (EU) has banned talcum powder in cosmetics due to health and safety concerns, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains no current position on talcum powder safety.
How Did Talcum Powder Become a Mainstream Concern?
There are many health and beauty brands on the market today that have established themselves as household names. As consumers, we often get into the habit of purchasing the same brand’s products time and time again that in turn helps to cultivate the company’s ever-reaching reputation.
But sometimes, these reputations don’t withstand the test of time.
This is the case for family brand Johnson & Johnson, whose century-long history has helped to cultivate consumers’ deep trust in its products. In recent years however, it has come under fire for the use of talcum powder as an ingredient in its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products. The company is currently battling over 9,000 lawsuits from women and family members who allege that years of using the company’s talc-based products led to their ovarian cancer diagnoses. Six major verdicts have awarded large sums in damages to the plaintiffs, with the most recent court decision being handed down in July 2018.
While the FDA regulates talcum powder in food products, there is little regulation of the ingredient in cosmetics. Only time will tell if these legal proceedings change the agency’s efforts in the future.
Companies Have Made the Shift to Support Consumer Decisions
The safety of the products we purchase is a rising concern for many consumers, and it has led to the use of buzzwords like “toxin-free,” “eco-friendly,” and “all natural” on packaging. As the concerns with talcum powder become more widely known, brands have also chosen to broadcast that their product is “talc-free.”
Johnson & Johnson maintains in and outside the courtroom that its talc-based products are safe to use, but it has also released a talc-free version of its products to satisfy heightened consumer concerns. We’re also seeing cosmetics brands offering talc-free versions of foundation, setting powder, and even eyeshadow to lessen the worry of its loyal purchasers.
How We Can Make Informed Product Purchases
Since products on the market today can still contain harmful ingredients, it’s crucial that we educate ourselves on toxins to look out for. In the case of talcum powder, it may be in consumers’ best interest to err on the side of caution and switch to talc-free products. Double-check the ingredients on the products you’re currently using as well, and do your research on brands that offer quality good-for-you items.