Has Johnson & Johnson's Talc Lawsuit Got You Freaked Out? There's A Way Scarier Ingredient Hiding Out In Your Products

It’s been a week since news broke that Johnson & Johnson lost in a $72 million lawsuit over talc in their baby powder. To briefly review, a Missouri jury ruled in favor of the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder for years.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence brought forward in the trial was a 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant that said that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.” Yikes. That is not a good look for Johnson & Johnson.

Since then many publication have been warning consumers to pay closer attention to what's in their personal care products, which is awesome! The Environmental Working Groups's Skin Deep, the holy grail for checking the safety of beauty and grooming products' ingredients, is getting some major love, and we couldn’t be happier or more on board with customers getting wise to the many, many unsafe things they unknowingly put in and on their bodies.

So, there’s just one minor point we’d like to stress in the wake of the Johnson & Johnson talc controversy.

There is a far more harmful ingredient than talc in baby powder, and it is the second, and only other ingredient on that bottle. That harmful ingredient is called "Fragrance" or "Parfum", and it’s in just about every big brand personal care product you buy.


Take a look at any bottle’s ingredient (note: I am obviously not including brands that go out of their way to work with safe, natural ingredients; the majority of big beauty and grooming brands unfortunately don't). If you see fragrance, or parfum, it’s probably listed as one ingredient. But that one word can actually stand for hundreds of different ingredients, thanks to a little loophole created by the (here we go again) FDA.

The FDA declares that: “nothing... shall be deemed to require that any trade secret be divulged." Because the FDA believes that fragrance ingredients are a “trade secret,” they rule that cosmetic companies don’t have to list any of the ingredients that make up their fragrance. Note that this is not the case for food ingredients, where one would think trade secrets would also be an issue. I would argue that, just like in food, companies could easily list what goes into the fragrance without giving specific ratios, making it pretty damn hard to replicate. Try baking a cake just knowing it contains sugar, flour, baking soda, and water, and see how close you come to copying the original. The same applies to any of your favorite perfumes. 

What this loophole absolutely does is allow personal care companies to hide known carcinogens in their products.


If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at styrene, an ingredient that the International Fragrance Association, an industry trade group, includes in their list of ingredients perfumers say they use in formulas for consumer product. Styrene is also a chemical that the National Toxicology Program, a collaboration of scientists from several government agencies, deems “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” 

In a recent analysis by the nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group with members from theBreast Cancer FundEnvironmental Working GroupClean Water Action, and other public and environmental health organizations, they found that Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system, with effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption, and cancer.

When you consider how many products we use every single day that contain fragrance, it's frightening how often we are exposing ourselves to known carcinogens. When you factor in that these are products that we paid for, it becomes unbelievable. Where's the uproar about this? Do we have to wait for individual lawsuits against every different company, for every single harmful ingredient, for change to be made? The use of fragrance in our personal care products is a huge issue, way bigger than the use of talc. 


If you want to begin to change your routine to avoid fragrance, look for either products scented with natural essential oils, ones that are fragrance free. You can also use the EWG to check any product that you buy for overall safety. 

If you're looking for some good J&J baby powder alternatives, Honest Beauty's organic, talc-free, fragrance-free baby powder fits the bill. If you've been using J&J's powder as a dry shampoo, Alder New York's Natural Hair Powder is another great option, and was created specifically to avoid talc and synthetic fragrance while maximizing oil absorption.

If that's not enough for you, join the fight to get the FDA to-come on already- do their damn job. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics will keep you updated on all the latest campaigns and petitions focused on this issue.

Yes, we've got a ton of work to do before we can count on our personal care products to automatically be safe to use. Until we get there, avoiding talc and fragrance is a great way to take control for yourself.