Is Talcum Powder Safe?
When my two sons were little guys I ‘reliably’ used Johnson’s Baby Powder daily, as did almost everyone in my circle of playgroup friends.
Sadly, the reliability of Johnson’s Baby Powder was called into question in the early 1970’s when talc was found to contain asbestos. I am so grateful that my boys were born in the 70’s after the terrible news that asbestos was carcinogenic (a carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow).
Johnson’s Baby Powder is a product that has had widespread use for decades, first produced in 1894, and it’s success launched the company’s baby business. Their brand has been synonomous with care, safety and health.
The concerns with talcum powder go beyond the asbestos days…
Jacqueline Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, claimed she used the company’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years before being diagnosed four years ago with ovarian cancer. She died in October 2015 at age 62. In February 2016, this report was released by Reuters giving detail to the court case where Johnson’s Baby Powder was linked to a woman’s death in the US from ovarian cancer.
"Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a Missouri state jury to pay $72 million of damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for several decades.
In a verdict announced late Monday night, jurors in the circuit court of St. Louis awarded the family of Jacqueline Fox $10 million of actual damages and $62 million of punitive damages, according to the family’s lawyers and court records. The verdict is the first by a U.S. jury to award damages over the claims, the lawyers said.
Johnson & Johnson faces claims that it, in an effort to boost sales, failed for decades to warn consumers that its talc-based products could cause cancer. About 1,000 cases have been filed in Missouri state court, and another 200 in New Jersey.
Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, claimed she used Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years before being diagnosed three years ago with ovarian cancer. She died in October at age 62.
Jurors found Johnson & Johnson liable for fraud, negligence and conspiracy, the family’s lawyers said. Deliberations lasted four hours, following a three-week trial.
Jere Beasley, a lawyer for Fox’s family, said Johnson & Johnson “knew as far back as the 1980s of the risk,” and yet resorted to “lying to the public, lying to the regulatory agencies.”
In the trial, Fox’s attorneys introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “Denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
In May 2016 another victory at court, this time for US$55 million. There is an appeal.
“Plaintiffs in talc litigation, which is concentrated in Missouri and New Jersey state courts, have accused J&J of failing for years to warn that talc was linked to an increased risk for ovarian cancer. J&J has said that it acted properly in developing and marketing the products.” The Guardian
Trials in several other talc lawsuits have been set for later this year, according to Danielle Mason, who also represented Fox’s family at the 2015 trial.
Sobering statistics in Australia released by Womens Cancer Foundation
- Every 10 hours, a woman in Australia dies of ovarian cancer.
- One in 70 women develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime; 1400 of these women will be Australia.
- Many women believe a Pap Smear will test for ovarian cancer… it doesn’t.
- Out of the 1400 Australian women diagnosed every year, only 20% of these women will survive for longer than five years, compared to breast cancer which has an 80% survival rate. 900 women out of the 1400 women will die.
There appears to be two streams of concern:
- Talc as a carcinogenic
The ongoing concern with all products is the lack of research associated with risk. In my view, sufficient duty of care has not been demonstrated…
In May 2009, a coalition of groups called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing Johnson & Johnson to eliminate questionable ingredients from its baby and adult personal care products. After three years of petitions, negative publicity and a boycott threat, the company agreed in 2012 to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products by 2015.
I liken multi nationals to giant semi trailers belting down the highway, they take time to slow down and turn the corner. Profit is the nature of the beast in the marketplace – if you are on a good thing run with it! The power we hold is that we are the consumer – this is our voice. When it starts to hurt the dollar they take notice. According to Safe Choices, it took three years for J & J to take notice and make their decision, but, they did do it, kudos to them. It took VOICES and CHOICES – let us applaude people like those at Safe Choices and their commitment to these campaigns.
The comment from Carol Goodrich, the Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman after the Jacqueline Fox case:
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
In light of the 2009 Campaign for Safe Cosmetics this statement is very questionable.
While clinical studies are not conclusive, I support advice from this reputable organisation Cancer.org that states… “Until more information is available, people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC), part of the World Health Organisation, classifies talcs as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on studies of genital use.
A Sydney-based spokesperson for J & J told Fairfax Media: “Johnson & Johnson relies on the greater body of evidence, and the greater body of evidence suggests there is really insufficient science to make that link. Do we believe that the product continues to be safe? Very much so.”
What about the smaller body of evidence? What about those words “suggests’” and “insufficient science”
If there is any 'smaller body of evidence' don't use the product till 'the greater body of evidence' os known.
2. The composition of talc itself
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen (magnesium trisilicate)
In it’s natural state it can contain asbestos. Read more
As a powder, it absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. It is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders, as well as in a number of other consumer products including chewing gum (yuk!).
Dr Andrew Weil M.D., a pioneer of integrative medicine in the US, identifies this risk…
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using baby powder as do many individual pediatricians… Talc is a mineral composed of hydrated magnesium silicate. The danger is that babies can easily inhale tiny particles of it that are light enough to be carried in the air. When inhaled, talc can dry an infant’s mucous membranes, adversely affect the baby’s breathing, and cause serious lung damage. Studies have shown that talc can lead to shortness of breath and wheezing in babies and can also lead to obstruction of the airways. Some babies have developed pneumonia and some have died as a result of respiratory failure from inhaling the powder. Cornstarch isn’t ideal either, but its particles are larger and are not as easily inhaled as talc. You should also be careful not to use either of these powders around older children or adults who have asthmabecause of the irritation it can cause when inhaled.”
Dr Weil M.D.
Given that talcum powder is not a necessity to use, it seems wise to bypass it altogether. Let wisdom prevail.