For a company that claims to “enrich the health and wellness of every Canadian” (J&J, 2016), Johnson & Johnson sure has been under a lot of fire for doing the exact opposite. You may have have seen that Johnson & Johnson has been featured in quite a lot of news headlines in the last few days. This surge of media coverage is unfortunately not to promote the brand, but to shed light on the multiple legal battles the company is involved in. Most recently, a jury in Missouri awarded a family with $72M for damages after a female member of the family died from ovarian cancer, caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum based products (The Guardian, 2016). Instead of reviewing the ins and outs of the case, which you can read about here, I want to discuss the central issue around the case and explain that the truth of the matter is that Johnson & Johnson is NOT the only company that includes dangerous ingredients in their products that you most likely use every day. Now I’m not trying to scare you, I’m trying to inspire you to educate yourself...but more on that later.
So what exactly is talcum powder? Talcum powder’s main ingredient is talc, which is a mineral made up of multiple elements like magnesium and silicon. Doesn’t sound so bad right? But research has shown that talc also contains a substance called asbestos, which if inhaled can cause cancer. Now because asbestos is known to cause cancer, it has been removed from personal products and what is left is “asbestos free” talc. But what does the research say about “asbestos free” talc? Well the jury is still out on that one, but if we go look to the case in Missouri, that jury was pretty clear on what the apparent “asbestos free” talc did to a frequent user of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder. Even Johnson & Johnson themselves have staff that are sceptical of their product. In 1997, Johnson & Johnson conducted a medical consultation and the memo that followed stated those who deny the risk of developing ovarian cancer when using “hygenic” talc would eventually be looked upon in the same light as those who denied the risk of developing cancer when smoking cigarettes (The Guardian, 2016). And keep in mind, Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder is not just used by adults who have the chance to be educated on the ingredient list, but it is mostly used on...you guessed it, babies!
So why would Johnson & Johnson continue to include this ingredient in their products? Why do any companies have harmful ingredients in their products that most people use everyday? Well it could be for many reasons. Cost could be one reason. Lower quality ingredients that can cause us harm are typically pretty cheap. Another reason could be that people are still buying these harmful products, literally by the truck load, so why change anything and spend more money making a better quality product? There are loads of harmful chemicals in personal care products that can cause health problems, in addition to cancer. And all these companies continue to use these chemicals even when they are proven to cause disease. So if the companies aren't going to change their ways, what can we we do? We can change OUR ways. We can VOTE with our dollar. We can take RESPONSIBILITY for exactly what goes into our bodies and the bodies of our loved ones.
My advice? Read every label on the products in your house and ensure you know exactly what each ingredient is and what effects it has. That sounds like a lot of work right? It is, unless you use products with just a few clean ingredients. Or better yet, make your own products! I make my own all purpose cleaner, scented room sprays, deodorant, face wash, moisturizers and even teeth whiteners - all with ingredients that provide health benefits instead of harm. When it comes to items that you eat, breath or lather onto your skin, knowledge is key. Know what every ingredient is because we now know, we can’t trust every company out there.
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Johnson & Johnson, 2016
The Guardian, 2016