On Cosmetic Talc Regulation, FDA Deferred to Industry

Published on December 9, 2019 by Sandy Liebhard

It appears the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been ignoring the health risks associated with cosmetic talc for decades, possibly because of undue influence from Johnson & Johnson and other corporate interests.

Cosmetic Talc and Asbestos: What’s the Relationship?

According to Reuters, the safety of cosmetic talc has been on the agency’s radar for the past 50 years. But time and again, the FDA has accepted safety assurances from cosmetic talc manufacturers and their lobbyists with little or no scrutiny, while all but ignoring concerns raised by outside experts and consumer groups.

Since the 1970s, the agency has also downplayed the risk of asbestos-contaminated talc and declined to issue warnings or impose safety standards. As a result, the industry has largely been left to self-regulate.

“When something as serious as cancer or carcinogens are at issue, self-regulation doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois congressman who chairs a U.S. House subcommittee investigating talc safety, told Reuters.

Unfortunately, the FDA lacks any authority to ensure the safety of cosmetics before they’re placed on store shelves, or even force companies to recall those found to be harmful.

FDA Has Finally Begun Testing Cosmetic Talc

Talc and asbestos – a known carcinogen – are both naturally occurring minerals. However, because talc is often found in close proximately to asbestos deposits, it can contain traces of asbestos fibers.

Johnson & Johnson purportedly subjects its talc to regular testing, and insists Baby Powder is free of any asbestos. But according to Reuters’ previous reporting, a handful of tests conducted since the 1970s have found miniscule amounts of asbestos in the company’s raw talc and finished powders. Yet Johnson & Johnson never informed regulators or consumers of these findings, placing concern for its “caring” image ahead of public safety.

The FDA rarely ordered its own talc tests – until recently. But after Reuters’s reporting, not to mention more than than $5 billion in talcum powder lawsuit verdicts against Johnson & Johnson, the agency appears to have had a change of heart, and began conducting cosmetic talc testing this year.

In September, the FDA announced that one of those tests had detected sub-traces of asbestos in a single bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder ordered online. While the discovery prompted the company to recall 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder as a “precautionary measure,” Johnson & Johnson maintains its own testing of the same bottle failed to detect any asbestos and insists the agency was mistaken.

Yet the FDA has stood by the own findings – suggesting it’s longer taking industry reassurances at face value.

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