Johnson & Johnson will remove talc-based baby powder from supermarket shelves after facing thousands of lawsuits from people who claim they developed cancer after using the product.
The baby powder was launched in 1894 and was once among the company’s most popular products.
The company has changed the packaging over the years but it has retained its distinctive white bottle and blue lettering.
However, it has fallen out of favour after some women claimed they developed cancer after using the product. J&J maintains the product is safe.
From 2023, the product will be made from cornstarch instead of talc - a clay mineral that is mined from the ground and used in many cosmetics - around the world. J&J announced the same move in the US and Canada in 2020.
The company maintains that its talc-based baby powder is safe to use but said that “misinformation” about the product had damaged sales. The company faces about 38,000 lawsuits, many from people who claim the powder contained asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
It said in a statement: “Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer.
“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio.”
‘An abundance of caution’
“We continuously evaluate and optimize our portfolio to best position the business for long-term growth. This transition will help simplify our product offerings, deliver sustainable innovation, and meet the needs of our consumers, customers and evolving global trends.”
However, an investigation by the news agency Reuters claims that the company knew for decades that traces of asbestos were occasionally present in some of its talc products. Both minerals are formed by the same geological processes so, when mined, talc can become contaminated.
Reuters reviewed internal company records, trial testimony and other evidence showing that from 1971 to the early 2000s, the raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.
In 2020, the company announced that it would stop selling talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada. A year earlier the company voluntarily recalled 33,000 bottles of talcum powder after US Food and Drug Administration regulators found trace amounts of asbestos in the product. J&J said it was acting “out of an abundance of caution”.
In October, J&J created a subsidiary, LTL Management, assigning its talc claims to it. It was later placed into bankruptcy, which paused the pending lawsuits.
A 2018 report by the advocacy group Global Witness suggested that Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban, were profiting from illegal mining of talc that ultimately ended up in western markets.