Talcum powder is an iconic product that has been used in American households for over 100 years. Mothers have used talcum powder not only on their babies to prevent diaper rash, but also on their own bodies to stay fresh and odor-free. But women across the country are finding out that “a sprinkle a day” may be doing more harm than good. Learn more about the possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, and what other risks may be associated with it.
What is talcum powder?
Talcum powder is a fine, soft, white powder made from the mineral talc. Talcum powder, also called baby powder, can be used for a wide variety of purposes and has been a staple in many American homes for over 100 years.
What is talc?
Talc is a naturally occurring clay mineral made up primarily of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talc is the softest known mineral on earth; it also absorbs moisture and odor well and reduces friction. For these reasons, it is widely used in cosmetics and is the main ingredient in talcum powder.
Talc is mined from the earth and processed in mills where it is crushed or finely ground to be used in a variety of different products. Talc deposits can be found throughout the United States and the world.
Talc deposits are often located near deposits of another well-known, but potentially dangerous mineral: asbestos. The federal government laid out strict guidelines in the 1970s requiring all consumer talc products to be asbestos-free. Before these laws, asbestos could be found in talc-containing products, including cosmetics and baby powder.
Which products contain talc?
Talc is widely used in consumer products, including makeup, lotions, deodorants, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products and other cosmetics and toiletries. It is also used when making paper, plastics, ceramics, paint and roofing materials.
Talc is also used in products that people ingest, including some foods like rice and chewing gum, and in the manufacture of tablets.
What is talcum powder used for?
Talcum powder has many uses. Traditionally, it has been used to soothe and prevent diaper rash in babies. The makers of talcum powder warn parents should not use the product near a baby’s face or mouth because it can be dangerous when inhaled. It can also be used to prevent chafing and skin rashes in kids and adults.
Many women use talcum powder for feminine hygiene, sprinkling a few puffs of the absorbent, odor-neutralizing powder in their underwear or directly to their genitals.
Men sometimes use it to prevent jock itch, a common groin rash which can be caused by moisture and irritation.
Because talcum powder absorbs excess moisture and oil, people often sprinkle it into their shoes to keep their feet dry or onto their hair to soak up grease, much like a dry shampoo would.
There are also non-traditional DIY uses of talcum powder, including as a pest control to kill ants, bed bugs and fleas.
Who makes talcum powder?
Talcum powder is made by many different manufacturers and sold under many different brand names. Perhaps the most iconic manufacturer of talcum powder is the conglomerate Johnson & Johnson. J&J commercialized its “Baby Powder” in 1894 when the first metal tin hit the market.
Can talcum powder cause ovarian cancer?
A few studies have been conducted in an attempt to determine if talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer, but the results have been mixed.
Research has shown that talc particles can migrate to the ovaries when a woman uses talcum powder near her genitals; whether or not that increases a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer is less clear. Some studies show a link, while other studies show none.
Nearly two dozen case-controlled studies have shown an increased risk for ovarian cancer after using talc-based products on the genitals. A review of those 23 case-controlled studies concluded the use of talc increased ovarian cancer risk between 30 and 60 percent. The review, published in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer in May 2015 by R. Ness, said the “elimination of talc use could protect more than one-quarter or more of women who develop ovarian cancer.”
An analysis published in 2014 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by Houghton et al. criticized the findings of case-controlled studies. The review said participants may be susceptible to recall bias — overestimating their previous use of talcum powder because they have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The analysis suggested prospective cohort studies would eliminate potential recall bias, and evaluated the only two cohort studies published to date: the Nurse’s Health Study and the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.
The Women’s Health Initiative study did not find an increased risk for ovarian cancer after using talcum powder. The Nurse’s Health Study also did not find an increased risk except for one specific type of ovarian cancer: serous invasive ovarian cancer.
The study found a 40 percent increased risk for serous invasive ovarian cancer in women who used talc-based products on their genitals. Serous ovarian cancer is one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer; in the Nurse’s Health study, serous invasive ovarian cancer comprised 86 percent of serous ovarian cancers in the cohort.
Inflammation could be cancer risk factor
Research suggests that inflammation plays an important role in the development of ovarian cancer.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2014 by Wentzensen et al. linked talc to chronic inflammation of the ovaries.
“Direct physical contact of talc with [the lining of the ovaries] may cause chronic inflammation,” wrote the study authors.
The study suggests inflammation caused by talc particles on the ovaries could contribute to the development of ovarian cancer, as inflammation is a generally accepted risk factor for ovarian cancer.
What are other possible adverse effects of talc or talcum powder?
Talc and talcum powder may pose certain health risks and can be harmful if the particles enter the body.
According to the American Cancer Society, one study suggested the use of talcum powder on the genitals may slightly increase the risk of uterine cancer in women who are past menopause. Other studies have reportedly not found such a link.
Talc miners and millers may be at an increased risk of developing lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, according to some studies. The studies are complicated by the fact that talc is often mined near asbestos, which is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance). It is difficult to determine whether miners and millers who developed lung cancer did so because of exposure to asbestos or exposure to talc.
Granulomas are masses of tissue typically produced in response to infection, inflammation or the presence of a foreign substance. Granulomas have been known to form when the powder from powdered gloves enters the body during surgery.
Powdered gloves are dusted with dry lubricants to make putting them on easier for doctors and to keep the gloves from sticking together during manufacturing. Talc was used to dust gloves between the 1930s and early 1970s, until the industry realized the talc could cause post-operative complications like granulomas and adhesions (bands of scar tissue that bind tissues that are not normally joined together).
The industry moved towards using cornstarch instead of talc and incidents of granulomas decreased, though adhesions still remained a problem.
As far back as 1997, the FDA has considered banning the use of powdered gloves, especially during surgery. The powdered glove debate resurfaced again in March 2016 when the FDA proposed a ban on most powdered gloves. It opened up the proposal to 90 days of public comment.
Has talcum powder been recalled?
No, talcum powder has not been recalled, though the Food and Drug Administration did conduct a survey several years ago to determine if traces of asbestos could be found in cosmetic-grade raw material talc and cosmetic products containing talc.
Though the FDA’s sample size was small — only four manufacturers of consumer-grade talc participated — it did not find asbestos in any of the samples. It also did not find traces of asbestos in any of the more than 30 cosmetic products it sampled, which included both drug store and department store brands.
Are there substitutes for talcum powder?
Many consumers have opted to skip the talcum powder and reach for substitutes they consider to be safer. Some of those replacements include cornstarch, arrowroot powder and baking powder. These products are still highly absorbent and help cut down on friction.
Many “baby powder” products now use cornstarch instead of talc. Even Johnson & Johnson has non-talc, cornstarch versions of its iconic baby powder.
Are there lawsuits against the makers of talcum powder?
There are at least 1,000 lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson related to its talcum powder and other talc-containing powder products like Shower to Shower pending in state courts in Missouri and New Jersey. The lawsuits allege Johnson & Johnson knew of the risks associated with its talc-based products as early as the 1980s but failed to warn consumers.
There is also a class action lawsuit filed in California seeking compensation for money spent on the products.
Have there been any settlements of talcum powder lawsuits?
The first trial against Johnson & Johnson regarding its talcum powder ended in 2013. The federal jury in Sioux Falls, South Dakota found J&J’s talcum powder contributed to the plaintiff’s ovarian cancer and said the company should have warned consumers about the link between ovarian cancer and talc-based products for feminine hygiene. The jury failed to award damages to the plaintiff.
This year, two talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson ended in jury verdicts. In February, a jury awarded $72 million to the estate of Jackie Fox, who died from ovarian cancer before the trial ended. In May, a St. Louis jury awarded $55 million to Gloria Ristesund who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for decades.
With two verdicts handed down in favor of the plaintiffs it remains to be seen if Johnson & Johnson will settle the remaining 1,200 lawsuits.
I used talcum powder for feminine hygiene and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Can I file a lawsuit?
If you or someone you love used talcum powder or Shower to Shower for feminine care and were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you may be entitled to compensation. With some lawsuits already being decided, it is imperative that you act now.
The attorneys at National Injury Help have been holding companies like Johnson & Johnson responsible for pain and suffering they’ve caused consumers for decades. Call National Injury Help today at 1-800-214-1010 for a free initial consultation or use the form on the right-hand side of the page.