Talcum Powder

For decades, talcum powder products such as Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower have been ubiquitous in American homes. But a growing body of research now indicates that use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene may increase the risk that woman will develop ovarian cancer.

What is Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is manufactured from mineral talc, which is composed of hydrated magnesium silicate. Numerous personal hygiene and cosmetic products contain talc, including

  • Body powders
  • Medicated powders
  • Deodorant powders
  • Foot powders
  • Baby powders
  • Sanitary and incontinence pads
  • Face powder
  • Blush
  • Eye shadow

In powder form, talc is very effective at absorbing moisture and reducing friction. As such, talcum powder products are used on a daily basis by many people to help the skin stay dry and to prevent rashes and chafing.

Naturally-occurring talc does contain some asbestos. However, household talcum products have not contained asbestos since the 1970s.

The Effects of Talcum Powder on Health

The use of talcum powder products have been linked to some adverse health consequences:

  • Respiratory Problem: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, talcum powder and cornstarch products may injure a baby’s lungs. If used, these products should be poured carefully and kept away from a child’s face.
  • Talcosis: Talcosis is a chronic disorder of the lungs caused by talc that results in wheezing, fast and shallow breathing, and coughing.
  • Long-term Health Consequences: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has noted that miners and others with long-term exposure to talc are at an increased risk for serious chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

Talc and Ovarian Cancer

Since the 1970s, over 20 studies have been published that link the use of talcum powder products to ovarian cancer. A meta-analysis involving 16 of these studies published in 2003 found that women who regularly used talcum powder for feminine hygiene purposes were 33% more likely to develop the disease compared to those who did not.

When a woman applies the powder to the groin area, particles may travel through the vagina and into the uterus and along the fallopian tubes to the ovaries. The accumulating talc can take years to dissolve, resulting in inflammation.

Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson is currently named a defendant in a dozens of talcum powder lawsuits filed on behalf of women who allegedly developed ovarian cancer due to their regular, repeated use of Shower to Shower and Johnson’ Baby Powder for feminine hygiene. Two cases have already gone to trial, including a Missouri lawsuit that ended in February 2016 with a $72 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff. In October 2013, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota jury found that the use of Johnson & Johnson’s products contributed to the development of ovarian cancer in another woman. However, no damages were awarded in the case.

In November 2015, the New Jersey Superior Court created a multicounty litigation for Johnson & Johnson talcum powder lawsuits in Atlantic County Superior Court. Court documents indicate that more than 130 cases were pending in the proceeding as of February 2016. (In Re: Talc-Based Powder Products – Case No. 300)

  1. American Cancer Society (2014) “Talcum Powder and Cancer” http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics (2015) “Keeping Baby’s Room Safe” https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Make-Babys-Room-Safe.aspx
  3. CDC (2012) “Talc Miner and Millers” http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pgms/worknotify/Talc.html
  4. Anti-Cancer Research (2003) “Perineal application of cosmetic talc and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a meta-analysis of 11,933 subjects from sixteen observational studies” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12820486
  5. Reuters (2016) “J&J must pay $72 million for cancer death linked to talcum powder: lawyers” http://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-verdict-idUSKCN0VW20A
Last Modified: February 24, 2016

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