Auditing J&Js Phase-Out of Toxic Baby Powder
(Paragraph 7 added February 6, 2024)
Most users of this website are aware of the scandal raging over asbestos-contaminated baby powder.1 The focus of global media attention has been on the actions of the US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which allowed sales of its iconic talc-based baby powder to continue despite the presence of carcinogenic fibers.2
In the face of a growing number of US cancer claims (now believed to exceed 50,000), J&J announced in May 2020 that it would stop selling the product in US and Canadian markets.3 It would be another two years before the company bowed to mounting pressure over claims of discriminatory marketing and double standards and agreed to stop sales outside North America. In a bland and short corporate statement in 2022, J&J announced that:
As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio. As a result of this transition, talc-based JOHNSONS® Baby Powder will be discontinued globally in 2023.4
During 2023, health and safety campaigners around the world monitored local and virtual marketplaces for evidence of changes in the availability of J&J talc and cornstarch-based baby powder, a safer alternative. As recently as July 2023 shelves full of the talc-based baby powder were found in a drugstore, discount outlet and supermarket in a London suburb; there was no J&J cornstarch-powder available either in shops or online. The situation was slightly better in retail outlets in São Paulo, Brazil where alongside talc-based baby powder, cannisters of cornstarch-based baby powder were available, albeit at a much higher price.5
Within six months, availability of the talc-based powder had dwindled with little stock available in the UK shops visited on January 6, 2024.
January 6, 2024: Sainsburys Supermarket; still some talc-based baby powder; no cornstarch-based baby powder available.
January 6, 2024: Independent drugstore; still some talc-based baby powder no cornstarch-based baby powder on sale.
Online only cornstarch-based J&J baby powder was available on the websites of Tesco and Sainsburys major UK supermarkets while Boots, a national pharmacy chain, had both the talc-based (500g £2.33) and the cornstarch-based versions (200g £1.75).
In Brazil, the situation has changed since last year. Whereas in 2023, the cornstarch-based baby powder was available at drugstores and shops in São Paulo, albeit at a higher price, in January 2024 the cornstarch-based product was unavailable at the same outlets. According to the shopkeeper, J&J was not delivering stock of the safer alternative. Some cannisters of the talc-based product were on the shelves.
Twenty-five hundred miles northwest of São Paulo, in Bogotá, Colombia, an exploratory survey undertaken in January 2024 of retail outlets selling baby care products found no stocks of J&J talc-based baby powder. The stores checked included Colsubsidio, Farmatodo, Olímpica, Carulla, Drogas La Rebaja, Drogas La Económica and Jumbo. No J&J talc-based baby powder was available from online platforms. No J&J cornstarch-based baby powder was available at the shops or online.
A visit by campaigner Sugio Furuya to two retail outlets in Yokohoma, Japan found no J&J talc-based baby powder on the shelves although there were other brands of talc-based baby powder on sale.6
Cornstarch-based J&J baby powder on sale in Yokohoma, Japan. January, 2024. Photograph by Sugio Furuya.
The two options for baby powder featured on J&Js website in Japan were both cornstarch-based.7
In India, J&J baby powder is a very popular product. An investigation in New Delhi this month (January, 2024) found an ample supply of cornstarch-based baby powder in various sized cannisters at local chemist shops and supermarkets. The cornstarch-based powder was about 10-15% more expensive than the talc-based one. J&Js talc-based baby powder was still being sold at some stores but this seemed to be old stock; this was confirmed by people the investigator spoke to who said that J&J was no longer producing the talc-based variant.
Indian online pharmacies are only selling J&Js cornstarch-based baby powder; they no longer stocked the companys talc-based powder. Unfortunately, however, big online suppliers like Amazon, Jiomart and others had the talc-based powder. Amazon also had the cornstarch-based powder but at a significantly higher price; most of the other big suppliers did not sell the cornstarch powder. J&Js website in India only offered the cornstarch variety but when this option was selected a message appeared saying unfortunately this product is not available currently. Potential purchasers were directed to retail outlets.
Cornstarch-based baby powder not available from J&Js Indian website.
Although J&J talc-based baby powder can be ordered online in Sweden, none was available in pharmacies in Lund, a prestigious university town in southern Sweden.
Commenting on the results of this grassroots audit, MP Ian Lavery Chair of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group (APPG) said:
The APPG has been concerned about the sale of J&Js talc-based baby powder for some while. On April 12, 2021, an Early Day Motion was tabled condemning the hypercritical and unjustifiable action by the American pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson which in 2020 withdrew from North American markets its talc-based baby powder, found to be contaminated with asbestos fibre by Government and independent laboratories, but continued to sell that product in countries all over the world including the UK 8
The APPG is hopeful that the initial audit showing dwindling availability of J&Js talc-based baby powder in Europe, Asia & Latin America presages the demise of a product which has caused so much ill health and death.
On behalf of the APPG, we would like to express our appreciation of the worldwide campaign to hold J&J to account; the efforts of groups such as the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK, the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, Black Women for Wellness (US) and others were pivotal in ensuring that J&Js toxic product would no longer endanger human health anywhere on the globe.
January 25, 2024
1 For people unaware of the details of this scandal or who need a refresher, please see the articles:
Malkin, S. Johnson & Johnson talc baby powder asbestos: key facts. November 2, 2023.
Girion, L. Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder. December 14, 2018.
2 Asbestos fibers had been found in samples of J&Js talc-based baby powder by multiple authorities and scientists around the world. For decades, a safer product has existed J&J cornstarch-based baby powder.
3 Johnson & Johnson to stop selling baby powder in US and Canada. May 19, 2020.
4 Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health to Transition Global Baby Powder Portfolio to Cornstarch. August 11, 2022.
Sweney, M. Johnson & Johnson to stop making talc-based baby powder globally. August 12, 2022.https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/aug/12/johnson-and-johnson-to-stop-making-talc-based-baby-powder-globally
6 Note of thanks for their assistance with this research to: Fernanda Giannasi, Juan Pablo Ramos-Bonilla, Sugio Furuya, Ajat Sudrajat and Raffaella Casati.
7 J&J website. Japan: Baby Powders.
8 EDM (Early Day Motion) 1718: Talcum powder, asbestos contaminants and cancer. April 12, 2021.
Letter from Black Women for Wellness to J&J CEO. July 8, 2020.
Press release. Death, Duplicity and Double Standards. May 25, 2020.