Talc is used in many cosmetic products, including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, blush and foundation. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration issued several alerts warning that asbestos had been found in makeup, including eye shadow sold at Claire’s, a retailer popular with teenage girls.
Talc and asbestos are natural minerals, and their underground deposits develop under similar geological conditions. As a result, veins of asbestos may crisscross talc deposits in mines.
Indeed, internal memos unearthed during litigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson had been concerned about the possibility of asbestos contamination in its talc for at least 50 years. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer affirmed it was a cause of the cancer in a 2011 report.
As of March, Johnson & Johnson faced more than 19,000 lawsuits related to talc body powders. So far, the legal record has been mixed, with the company prevailing in some cases and losing in others. It is appealing nearly all of the cases it has lost.
Late last year, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after F.D.A. investigators said they had discovered asbestos in a bottle bought from an online retailer. But the company later said its own tests exonerated the product.
Johnson & Johnson is fending off lawsuits on other fronts as well, most notably ones related to opioids. In August 2019, an Oklahoma judge ruled that the company had oversold the benefits of the drugs while playing down the risks, and ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in damages.
In October, in an unrelated case that involved the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, a Philadelphia jury ordered the company to pay $8 billion to a Maryland man who claimed he had been harmed by using the drug.