By Susan Barfield /
August 12, 2020

Does Baby Powder Cause Cancer?

What you need to know about talcum powder and ovarian cancer

For more than 100 years, Johnson & Johnson marketed its talcum powder based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products as safe for adults, children and new-born infants. Many women grew up using these products for their own personal hygiene based on the recommendation of their mothers and grandmothers. Generations of women have used a sprinkle of talcum powder on their genitals to keep them fresh and dry as part of their daily routine.

J&J’s Broad and Deceptive Marketing Tactics

For decades J&J marketed Baby Powder to adult women as a symbol of “freshness and comfort” eliminating friction on the skin, absorbing “excess wetness” to keep the skin feeling dry and comfortable, and “clinically proven to be gentle and mild.” Thousands of pending Lawsuits accuse Johnson & Johnson of inducing women through deceptive advertisements to dust themselves with Baby Powder to mask odors. The company specifically targeted women with slogans such as “For you, use every day to help feel soft, fresh and comfortable.”

Johnson marketed its Shower to Shower talc-based product with similar messages of comfort resonating with women. Consumers believed Shower to Shower was safe due to famous slogans such as “A sprinkle a day helps keep odor away,” and advertisements such as “your body perspires in more places than just under your arms. Use Shower to Shower to feel dry, fresh and comfortable throughout the day. Shower to Shower can be used all over your body.”

According to an April 2019 Reuters investigation, J&J looked for ways to sell more Baby Powder to two key groups of longtime users: African American and overweight women. According to an internal J&J marketing presentation, the “right place” to focus was under-developed geographical areas with hot weather and higher African American populations. During the presentation executives were told “Powder is still considered a relevant product among African American consumers. This could be an opportunity.” In the following years, J&J’s marketing tactics specifically targeted “curvy Southern women 18-49 (years old) skewing African American.”

J&J discontinues Baby Powder sales in U.S. and Canada

In May of this year, J&J announced it would discontinue sales of talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada citing reduced demand from consumers. The company attributed the decline “in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.” The company continues to deny allegations linking talc powder use to cancer relying on “decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world supporting the safety of their products.”

Safer alternatives have always been available

Despite the known risk of cancer that J&J failed to disclose to the public, safer alternative products such as cornstarch based powders have always been available. Cornstarch is an organic carbohydrate that is quickly broken down by the body with no known adverse health effects. Cornstarch powders have been sold and marketed for the same uses and nearly the same effectiveness as talcum powder, but without the risk of cancer.

Extensive Body of Evidence Linking Talc Powder to Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder has been linked to ovarian cancer since the early 1970s with the first major research study published in the early 1980s. Since then, scientists have conducted dozens of studies linking talcum powder and ovarian cancer.

The first epidemiologic study on talc power use in the female genital area was conducted by scientists in 1982 and found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who reported genital talc use. The scientists even suggested that Johnson & Johnson place a warning label on talc-based products, a recommendation the company decided not to heed. Since the original research in 1982, there have been 27 additional epidemiologic studies linking talc power to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Some of the highlights from the studies are summarized below:

  • In 1983 a case-control study found a 150% increased risk of ovarian cancer for women who use talcum powder in the genital area.
  • A 1988 study of over 700 women found that 52% of cancer patients habitually used talcum powder on their genital area before being diagnosed with cancer.
  • In 1992, a case-control study found an 80% increased risk of ovarian cancer in women with more than 10,000 lifetime perineal applications of talc powder, demonstrating a positive dose-response relationship between talc use and cancer.
  • A separate study also released in 1992 reported a 70% increased risk from genital talc use and a 379% significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who used talc on sanitary napkins in their genital area.
  • A case-control study published in 1996 found a 97% increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who used what they described as a “moderate” or higher use of talc-based powders in their genital area.
  • In 1997, a case control study of 313 women with ovarian cancer and 422 without found that the women with cancer were more likely to have applied talcum powder to their external genitalia area. Women who performed any perineal dusting or used genital deodorant spray had a 60% to 90% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • In 1999, Dr. Daniel Cramer who published the original 1982 research, conducted another case-control study observing 563 women newly diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer and 523 women in a control group. The study round a statistically significant 60% increased risk of ovarian cancer in women that used talc body powder on their perineal area and an 80% increase in risk for women with over 10,000 lifetime applications.
  • In 2004, a study of 1,400 women found a 37% increased risk of epithelial ovarian cancer from women’s genital talc use and a 77% increased risk of serous invasive ovarian cancer from women’s genital talc use.
    • This study also examined women’s use of cornstarch powders as an alternative to talc finding no increased risk of ovarian cancer in women in the cornstarch group.
  • In 2008 a study of over 3,000 women found a 36% increased risk for all types of epithelial ovarian cancer from genital talc use and a 60% increased risk of serous invasive ovarian cancer subtype. The study also found a highly significant dose-response relationship between the cumulative talc exposure and incidence of ovarian cancer, adding further weight to the causal relationship.
  • In 2015, Roberta Ness performed an analysis of all accumulated epidemiologic research which included 23 case control studies. Dr. Ness reported talc use increases ovarian cancer by 30 to 60% in all well-designed studies further validating the extensive research that had been published to date.
  • A study of African American women published in 2016 found that body powder was significantly associated with epithelial ovarian cancer.

What is Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral composed primarily from three elements: magnesium, silicon and oxygen. As a powder, it absorbs moisture and reduces friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent irritation such as rashes. Because of these properties, talcum powder is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder, adult body and facial powders and numerous consumer products.

Asbestos and talc are minerals that are mined from the earth and often occur together in nature. Mined talc powder can be contaminated with asbestos based on its close proximity in the earth. Basically, when it comes out of the ground, talc powder may already contain deadly asbestos particles.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers found in soil and rocks in many parts of the world. Asbestos particles consist mainly of silicon and oxygen and may contain other elements. There are 2 primary types of asbestos, Chrysotile asbestos and Amphibole asbestos.

Chrysotile asbestos, sometimes called white asbestos, is frequently used for industrial applications. Under a microscope, chrysotile asbestos fibers appear wrapped in a spiral formation which is why this form of asbestos is also called serpentine or “curly asbestos.” Chrysotile asbestos is commonly used in roofing material, ceilings, walls and floors of homes and businesses. Consumer product manufacturers also use white asbestos in automobile brake parts, gaskets and boiler seals, and insulation for pipes, ducts and appliances.

Amphibole asbestos has needle-shaped fibers. While both types of asbestos have been linked to cancer, studies suggest it takes much less exposure to amphibole asbestos to cause cancer, compared to serpentine asbestos. Amosite and crocidolite are two varieties of amphibole asbestos widely used in commercial products such as cement sheets, vinyl tiles, insulation, roofing products and fire protection. According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to amosite asbestos creates a higher risk of cancer in comparison with common chrysotile asbestos.

Product manufacturers find asbestos useful because the asbestos fibers are strong, resistant to heat and many chemicals, and do not conduct electricity. These composite properties are valuable in the production of many of the aforementioned consumer products.

How Asbestos Exposure Occurs

Evidence from studied in both people and lab animals have shown exposure to asbestos can increase the risk for some types of cancer. When asbestos fibers enter the human body, they irritate surrounding cells causing inflammation which can eventually lead to various types of cancer. When inhaled, asbestos fibers can make their way into the small airways in the lungs or penetrate into the outer lining of the lungs and chest wall, known as the pleura. The asbestos fibers can irritate the cells in the lungs or pleura and eventually cause lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Research studies have established clear links between asbestos exposure and other types of cancers such as the following:

  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Rectal cancer

You may have a claim for damages against Johnson & Johnson

If you are suffering from cancer that may be linked to regular and consistent use of talcum powder, you may qualify to join a mass action lawsuit that has been filed against Johnson & Johnson. Case Works is not a law firm, but we work with some of the best attorneys in the nation and can help you get connected with one of them to evaluate your case. Click the button below get in touch with us.