Women who used baby powder for feminine hygiene later developed ovarian cancer after talcum particles lodged inside their bodies. Studies suggest that long-term use of talc products for feminine hygiene may lead to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Affected women and their families often file a talcum powder lawsuit to seek compensation for their injuries.
Talcum Powder Uses and Potential Risks
One of the main ingredients in baby powder is talc, which is a naturally-occurring mineral that is made up of hydrogen, oxygen, silicon and magnesium, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Geology.com explains that as the softest mineral, talc has many features that make it seemingly ideal for bath and beauty products once it has been ground into powder. For example, it absorbs oils and moisture such as sweat, and it is gentle on the skin. As a result, it is often used in antiperspirants and foot powders. It also prevents cosmetics from clumping and caking.
Although talc is not inherently harmful, this mineral is often found in close proximity to asbestos, which is a carcinogen. According to the American Cancer Society, carcinogens are substances that are likely to lead to cancer.
In baby powder, the absorbing and odor-eliminating properties have made it popular for preventing diaper rash. Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder label, which lists talc and parfum as its ingredients, claim that the product reduces chafing. It is recommended for use on babies and adults. The safety information warns against breathing in the powder, getting it in the eyes or using it internally.
Talcum Powder Purity and Product Safety Testing
Since asbestos exposure can cause cancer, the FDA does not allow products containing talc to be contaminated with this substance. However, before they are permitted to enter the marketplace, the regulatory agency does not have to review cosmetic products containing talc and their ingredients.
In the past, there have been questions about the safety of talcum powder because research revealed that asbestos could be mined along with talc, and the manufacturing process did not remove it. However, this was occurring in the 1970s. Since then, the substances have been separated so that further contamination does not occur. The FDA periodically performs random testing on products containing talcum powder to ensure that they are not tainted.
The regulatory agency warns that it does not typically review cosmetic products such as baby powder or their individual ingredients. This task belongs to the manufacturers. They are required to properly investigate the safety of their products when used as directed, and they must provide labels that caution against intended and improper use. Only when scientists discover that harm could occur even when consumers follow instructions does the FDA get involved.
Talcum Powder and Cancer Risk
Although Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder does not contain asbestos, there have been some studies that indicate the talc itself may be carcinogenic for women when used in the perineal area. According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, talc has some properties that are chemically related to asbestos, a known carcinogen. Mesothelioma, a disease of the lungs caused by asbestos, has some similar tissue structures as ovarian cancer. In addition, asbestos has been linked to ovarian cancer, a fact that has prompted ongoing research.
Although studies have not all been conclusive about whether the mineral is carcinogenic, for nearly 20 years scientists have been publishing reports indicating that it may be. Doctors have discovered talc in ovarian cancer tissues, as well.
Talcum powder is also associated with several serious medical conditions:
- Lung cancer – Those working in talc mines for extended periods have been shown to have a higher incidence of harmful lung conditions, including cancer. This heightened risk may be linked directly to talc exposure, or it may be a byproduct of the presence of asbestos in talc mines.
- Talcosis – While far less common, talcosis is another possible effect of prolonged talc exposure. This condition is characterized by tightness in the chest and a feeling of breathlessness. As the condition persists, lung scarring can occur, which may cause the oxygen levels in the blood to decrease.
- Talcum poisoning – Baby powder can also prove extremely harmful if swallowed or if large amounts are inhaled. Effects of talcum poisoning can range from mild (eye and throat irritation) to severe (lung failure and coma).
Extended exposure seems to be a key component for many of those harmed by this substance. However, limiting one’s exposure to talc can be difficult given its ubiquitous presence in so many consumer products.
Baby Powder and Ovarian Cancer
Since the possibility of talc cosmetic products being contaminated with asbestos has become a concern, the FDA conducted a study of cosmetic products containing talc currently on the market. This study was conducted through a partnership with AMA Analytical Services, Inc., and ran from September of 2009 to September of 2010. At the end of the study, it was found that no traces of asbestos existed in the cosmetic products that contained talc. However, the results of this study were limited; just four suppliers of talc submitted samples and only a few products were tested. As a result, the FDA states that it cannot conclusively determine whether or not cosmetic products in the U.S. containing talc are free of asbestos.
Although the FDA’s survey, in addition to other studies, produced inconclusive results regarding the link between talcum powder and cancer, researchers have been investigating whether there is a link between exposure to talc and ovarian cancer since the 1970s. A study conducted by a Harvard University professor in 1982 suggested a statistical link between talc use and ovarian cancer. This same professor also released a study in December of 2015 in the journal Epidemiology claiming that using talc for cosmetic purposes contributes to a 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer. Additionally, this study suggests that the longer talcum powder is used, the greater a woman’s risk is of developing cancer.
Baby Powder Lawsuits Against Johnson & Johnson
Since there is a potential link to ovarian cancer and the use of products containing talcum powder, some people have filed lawsuits against manufacturers that produce these products. For example, in one case, according to USA Today, the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer claimed that the talcum powder used in feminine hygienic products was a factor in her death, and filed a case against Johnson & Johnson.
Not only did the family claim that talcum powder played a role in the woman’s death, but they also claimed that Johnson & Johnson failed to let consumers know that exposure to talc could be dangerous. Although the manufacturer stated that its products are safe, the jury on this case ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the family of the deceased woman $72 million in damages.