The baby powder and ovarian cancer connection is hard to dispute.
As late as 1960 only one-third of all U.S. doctors believed cigarettes caused cancer, preferring to buy into cigarette manufacturers’ orchestrated conspiracy to salvage cigarette sales. The sugar industry is currently doing much of the same despite overwhelming evidence that sugar is addictive and increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The reality is that talc, which is found in baby powder (as well as eye shadow, blush, and deodorant) has been linked to ovarian cancer in numerous studies beginning in 1971 when scientists pointed to a possible connection between the dusting of female genitals with talcum powder and ovarian cancer. They believed that talc particles entered a woman’s reproductive tract through the vagina and traveled through the cervix into the uterus, then moved through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries.
Researchers detailed findings in The Lancet journal that a majority of ovarian tumors had particles of talc deeply embedded in them. That study was followed up by another one in 1982 in the journal Cancer, showing supporting research linking ovarian cancer to talcum powder. Since then, another two dozen studies have shown similar cause-effect relationships, including a June 2013 study where researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital reported an increased risk of ovarian cancer of 20 to 30 percent for women who used talcum powder for intimate personal hygiene, confirming an earlier study in the journal Anticancer Research.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.” IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Its main goal is to identify causes of cancer.
“Information raising the question of this link has been available in the medical and scientific literature for years,” says Dr. Jennie Ann Freiman, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist. “It was the reason I always counseled my gym patients against using talc in any form, including foot powder.”
“The research shows that there can be a correlation,” adds Dr. Abby Kramer, a chiropractor and holistic physician in Glenview, Illinois. “I would say to avoid it. This is especially important to women who already have risk factors such as family history of ovarian cancer, genetic mutations, or a history of smoking.”
Dr. Jill Waibel, owner of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, says there are also studies that show talcum powder can increase the risk of lung cancer and other respiratory disease. “These studies have been complicated because the talc in its natural form contains asbestos and this is already known as a cause of lung cancer. This is one of the main reasons we have stopped using baby powder after showers.”
One research study showed how inhaling talcum powder causes respiratory problems, such as acute aspiration.
Baby Powder And Ovarian Cancer: Courts Connect The Powdery Dots
The troubles with talc are reminiscent of Big Tobacco, how they were able to fend off the lawsuits initially, only to collapse under a class action wall of litigation. In the mid-1990s, more than 40 states commenced litigation against the tobacco industry, seeking monetary, equitable, and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and antitrust laws. The general theory of these lawsuits was that the cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry contributed to health problems among the population, which in turn resulted in significant costs to the states’ public health systems.
Something similar could be headed for personal care product companies selling talcum powder — especially Johnson & Johnson.
In October 2016, a California woman won a $72 million lawsuit from the personal care product giant Johnson & Johnson after she claimed that using the company’s industry-leading baby powder caused her ovarian cancer. She had used the baby powder for more than 40 years before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. Traditional chemotherapy and radiation did not help. This followed two other jury verdicts in St. Louis that year with similar awards. Currently, there are roughly 1,700 state and federal lawsuits alleging that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn the public of research linking talc-containing powders to ovarian cancer.
Now the Toronto, Ontario, law firm of Rochon Genova has filed a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson over allegations that its Baby Powder product causes ovarian cancer. The plaintiffs all developed ovarian cancer following long-term use of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder for feminine hygiene purposes. The suit aims to raise awareness of the serious cancer risk posed to women by Baby Powder use, and to change the behavior of companies that put known carcinogens into the stream of the Canadian marketplace without warning. The leading case in Canada is that of Thérèse Bernier, who died in March 2016 following a long battle with ovarian cancer.
“It is beyond disturbing that Johnson & Johnson continues to sell Baby Powder without any warnings whatsoever of the link between ovarian cancer and its Baby Powder,” says Joel Rochon of the law firm.
Similar class action lawsuits are being prepared in the U.S.
A Closer Look At The Powdery Path
Talcum powder was discovered in Italy in the 1800s. Johnson’s Baby Powder made its public debut in 1894 after company scientific director Fred Kilmer sent some patients containers of Italian talc to soothe the irritation caused by casts. These patients discovered that the talc also helped alleviate diaper rash.
Many other uses for talcum powder were discovered in the following years, including as a personal hygiene product to absorb moisture on the body. Both men and women use it in their genital areas. Talcum powder is generally soft, fine-grained, white, gray or pale green in color, and has a pleasant smell often due to the perfume that is sometimes added.
There have been inventive uses also, such as preventing the squeakiness of floorboards and to kill ants.
Talcum powder is made from a mineral known as talc, which is composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. In its natural form, talc contains asbestos, which is carcinogenic. This is because talc and asbestos naturally occur near each other underground. All talcum products used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.
However, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), cosmetic-grade talc free of asbestos is a form of magnesium silicate that can also be toxic and carcinogenic. This, based on a study by the National Toxicology Panel.
A March 1976 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) memo obtained by the nonprofit investigative news organization FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act charged that cosmetics makers had been lax in monitoring the safety of talc.
There’s Got To Be A Better Way — 5 Alternatives
Avoiding the baby powder and ovarian cancer connection is pretty simple — find a healthy alternative.
- Cornstarch — It doesn’t have talc’s pretty scent, but it doesn’t have talc’s ugly reputation either. “For those who choose to dust their skin with powder, cornstarch baby powder is an excellent alternative to talc,” says Freiman. The consistency is exactly the same, so it’ll help soak up wetness just as well. Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm of a corn kernel and is often used to help thicken sauces. Be sure to look for non-GMO and organic.
- Arrowroot starch or tapioca starch — Both are all-natural alternatives to talc. Arrowroot is derived from several tropical South American plants. Tapioca starch is derived from the crushed-up pulp of the South American cassava plant, a woody shrub. Both are used in recipes as alternatives to flour and cornstarch.
- Baking Soda — A common pantry item that can be used in place of baby powder. Some people even use it as deodorant, applying some to their underarms each morning. It can also deodorize the air, absorbing bad odors such as in the refrigerator.
- Waxelene — Great for diaper rash. Waxelene is an eco-friendly petroleum jelly substitute. This beeswax-based natural skin care product can fill in for the many uses people have for petroleum jelly, and it’s even better because it’s safe and more effective without nasty crude oil.
- Silver Ointment — Another safe alternative to diaper rash. Colloidal silver is a natural antibiotic that wipes out bacterial infections in a safe and clean manner. When babies wear diapers their skin can be in contact with urine for long periods of time. This warm, moist area of the skin will allow bacteria and fungus to grow very quickly. To prevent diaper rash, you can apply a thin layer of structured silver on the inside of the diaper and then allow it to stand for about two minutes.
Use The Power Of Silver To Naturally Relieve Rashes And Prevent Infections. Rashblock Is Safe Enough, Kids Can Even Eat It
Looking Beyond The Talc
According to Kramer, talcum powder was never intended for everyday use. “For those using it daily I’d be asking — why do they need to use powders ‘down there’ on a daily basis? If that sort of measure is needed daily for hygienic reasons, surely there is something else going on whether it be pH, hormonal, or digestive microbiome imbalance.”
Kramer says talcum powder is essentially a “Band-Aid” sort of treatment. “By finding out the root cause of the issue, that sort of therapy isn’t needed anymore.”
Waibel suggests seeing a certified dermatologist to help discuss other treatment options to help with excess sweating or intertrigo (rash between skin folds).
“It is recommended for patients to stay away from using any talcum powders,” says Waibel.
More than 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).