Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Johnson & Johnson to Pay $72 Million in Ovarian Cancer/ Talcum Powder Case: Are All Baby Powders Unsafe?

Image credit:  The Lip TV

Johnson and Johnson has been ordered to pay $72 million by a judge due to a baby powder related cancer death.  

Have you ever (or do you still?) used baby powder on yourself or on your babies?  I remember growing up I used to love the smell of baby powder and often used it.  It is a product that, as the name would seem to imply, should be so pure and safe that it is a powder you can use on babies... and yet for years (since the 1970's!) studies have shown links to ovarian cancer in woman.   More recently, in June 2013,  a study in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research found that women who used talcum body powder as a feminine hygiene produce may face a 20% to 30% greater risk of ovarian cancer compared to those who do not apply talc.

This week, Johnson and Johnson was found guilty of continuing to market baby 

powder that contains talc to women, while knowing of scientific studies linking their key ingredient to ovarian cancer (  "Jurors found Johnson & Johnson liable for fraud, negligence and conspiracy, the family's lawyers said").  In this specific case (there are hundreds pending throughout the US) the family of the victim, a 62 year old woman from Missouri, did not claim that talc was the sole cause of her cancer, but that it was a contributing factor.  They explain that she used J&J baby powder every morning for feminine hygiene for over 30 years.   

The attorney for the family showed " a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “Denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.” Pretty damaging (and disturbing) evidence.

This victim is not alone.  Millions of women have used Johnson and Johnson baby powder for personal hygiene for decades.   In fact a popular commercial for the product from the  '80's  claimed that “just a sprinkle a day keeps odor away.” 


Talc, talcum powder, baby powder, French chalk, or magnesium silicate; these are all different names for the same ingredient that absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. Unfortunately, as we have mentioned, it can pose a threat to kid’s and women's health.  Talc can naturally occur and be contaminated with asbestos fibers, a known human carcinogen.  The little particles in talcum powder can also be dangerous for babies lungs.

Does a safe talcum powder exist?

Kind of. Maybe.  But no one is really sure.

Modern day baby powder should not, legally, have talc that contains asbestos.  However, whether or not talc free powder, when applied to woman's genitalia over many years, can be linked to ovarian cancer too is still not 100% determined since evidence for both sides exist. 

 Regardless, even the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using baby powder, mostly due to exposure to phthalates (known endocrine disruptor's) in fragrance and possible lung damage. Instead of baby powders, they (and we) recommend using non-toxic butt creams or coconut oil.   

Bottom line?  If the main ingredient in your baby powder is "talc" I would stay away from it.

If you are hooked to baby powders, and are searching for a safe talcum- like powder, choose cornstarch or products that specify they are "talc free".  While you are at it, look for fragrance-free too.   Always keep the powder away from your babies mouth and nose.  Here are some safer alternatives;

  • Rapunzel Organic Corn Starch, 8 oz
  • Ava Anderson Non-Toxic Baby Powder, 3.7 oz
  • Little Twig Baby Powder, Extra Mild Unscented 4 oz.


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