The J&J Baby Powder Scandal

The Lawsuit

Earlier this year, the court ruled in favor of the family of a deceased woman, from Georgia, against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in a lawsuit claiming ovarian cancer caused by the company’s baby power and other talc-containing products used for feminine hygiene. The family was awarded $10M in actual damages, and $62M in punitive damages. The deciding factor was J&J’s failure to inform consumers of the dangers of talc, which is commonly found in baby powder.  An internal memo from J&J’s medical consultant stated “anybody who denies the risk of using hygienic talc and ovarian cancer is denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.” Like many ‘potential’ carcinogenic chemicals/compounds, it is very difficult to directly link ovarian cancer to long-term talc exposure. However, research has repeatedly shown the presence of talc in tissues of women with ovarian cancer. As a result, many doctors now advise mothers to refrain from using talcum powder on their babies (potential carcinogen and respiratory irritant), as well as for feminine hygiene purposes.

What is talc/talcum?

Talc, commonly referred to as Talcum powder is a naturally-occurring fibrous clay mineral comprised of hydrogen, magnesium, silicon, and oxygen (H2Mg3(SiO3)4 or Mg3Si4O10(OH)2). In its natural state, some talc contains asbestos; which has been known to result in lung related cancers when inhaled.  Talc can be found in processed food, drugs, cosmetics, as well as paper industry processes

Why did it take so long?

The time factor in connecting talc exposure/consumption to ovarian cancer is associated with the nature of toxicity, and the body’s response to introductions of foreign substances. Toxicity is the result of compounded adverse effects over an extended period, making chronic effects discoverable only after decades of usage.

What does this mean to you as a cosmetics consumer?

It is your responsibility as a consumer to be vigilant, and aware of the health and safety concerns associated with the products you, and your loved ones are exposed to.  Nowadays, the cosmetics market is seeing a shifting in consumer behavior towards more ingredient/content conscious, and natural alternatives purchases.

What should you know for future uses of this and similar products?

It is imperative the consumers are educated in the ingredients used in the cosmetics market. As more research is made available, sources such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have produced the Skin Deep® app from their database, making it easier to check product safety ratings from the convenience of your smart hand-held devices.