Talcum powder. It seems innocent enough, but did you know scientists have been warning us about potential risks since the 1960s? Talcum powder is a mineral-based product used in baby powder and many other cosmetics. Although published health studies show a link between use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer, millions of men and women still use it to absorb moisture and promote freshness. In fact, it’s still a popular diaper rash prevention tactic used in infants and young children.
Johnson & Johnson shelled out more than $700 million dollars in talcum powder/ovarian cancer-related lawsuit cases in 2016 and 2017 alone, and have tens of thousands of pending lawsuits. In fact, Reuters just published an exclusive report suggesting that Johnson & Johnson is exploring a method to offload liabilities connected to baby powder litigations by pursing a bankruptcy plan.
According to Reuters, Johnson & Johnson may use a newly created business to handle litigation related to talcum powder and would then seek bankruptcy protection, resulting in lower payouts for cases that didn’t settle beforehand.
Still, people continue to use products containing talc on themselves and their children. Maybe they aren’t convinced of the potential health hazards of talcum powder, even though many studies and case reports clearly point out its dangers.
Past reports have made it clear — you should never use baby powder or products containing talc on your skin. Plus, even inhaling these products can be problematic. The good news is that there are many natural alternatives for talcum powder that are completely safe and equally effective.
What Is the Use of Baby Powder?
Baby powder is commonly used to absorb moisture and cut down on friction. When applied to the skin, it can help prevent rashes and other skin irritations like chafing. Many women apply baby powder to their perineum, underwear or pads to keep the area fresh and dry.
Talcum powder is also commonly added to makeup products like foundation and cosmetic powder in order to prevent caking and ensure a smooth appearance. And parents commonly apply it to their infants and young children to prevent bacterial overgrowth, yeast and diaper rash.
Baby powder is a product name for talcum powder, which is made from talc, a clay mineral containing magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talc is mined in proximity to asbestos, another naturally occurring mineral known to have carcinogenic effects. According to information posted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “to prevent contamination of talc with asbestos, it is essential to select talc mining sites carefully and take steps to purify the ore sufficiently.”
Although the FDA considers it unacceptable for cosmetic talc to be contaminated with asbestos, there’s no federal mandate to test and approve cosmetic products and ingredients before they land on stores shelves. In an effort to address the safety concerns of talc in powders and cosmetic products, the FDA conducted a survey in 2009 and 2010.
FDA asked nine talc suppliers to participate in the survey by sending samples of their talc. Of the nine suppliers, only four complied with the request. Meanwhile, tested purchased 34 cosmetic products in retail stores in the Washington D.C. area and tested them for asbestos contamination. The survey found no asbestos in any of the samples or products analyzed, but the FDA suggests these findings are limited because only four suppliers provided samples and the testing was limited to just 34 products. Therefore, this survey doesn’t prove that most or all talc-containing products sold in the United States are free of asbestos contamination.
In fact, J&J recently recalled a batch of its baby powder due to concerns over baby powder asbestos contamination.
1. Ovarian Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, many studies in women investigatedtalcum powder’s link to cancer in the ovaries. When a woman applies baby powder or any product containing talc to her genital area, the powder particles can travel through the vagina, into the uterus and fallopian tubes and to the ovaries.
The first study suggesting the connection of talc and ovarian cancer came out in 1971, when talc particles turned up in human ovarian and uterine tumors. Then, in 1982, a study linked genital talc use with ovarian cancer. Since then, dozens of studies suggest a strong link.
A 2016 study conducted in Boston and published in Epidemiology analyzed the association of ovarian cancer and genital talc use. Researchers examined talc use among 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 women of similar ages and geographic locations that served as the controls. The data showed that genital use of talc increased ovarian cancer risk by 33 percent. The risk of cancer decreased as the longer a women went without using talcum powder in her genital region. Those who used the powder more frequently faced a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Another study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Preventioninvolved more than 1,300 African American women. Baby powder use was common for 62.8 percent of the women with ovarian cancer, implying a significant association between baby powder use and ovarian cancer risk.
A New York Times article published in August, 2017 indicates that a judge recently ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million dollars in damages to a 63-year-old woman who developed ovarian cancer after using baby powder on her genital area when she was eleven years old. There have been more than 5,000 baby powder-related cases against Johnson & Johnson, with lawsuits claiming carcinogenic effects. Damages to Johnson & Johnson between 2016 and 2017 exceed $700 million dollars.
2. Lung Cancer
Although inhaling talcum powder alone may not be directly related to the development of lung cancer, there are studies that suggest an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases among talc miners and millers. This is most likely due to the varying forms of asbestos that can come into contact with talc.