Earlier this week, jurors in the St. Louis circuit court ordered beauty and personal care giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay $72 million to the family of Jacqueline Fox.
In the case, Fox’s death from ovarian cancer, in October, at age 62, was linked to her repeated use of J&J’s talcum Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene, over several decades. There are now more than 1,000 talc cases pending across the nation, with trial dates set for later this year.
In the natural beauty world, talc is often misunderstood, and with good reason. It is, after all, an acceptable ingredient by ECOCERT certification, which would lead one to believe it is safe. There is food-grade talc. And there are supporters and detractors on all sides of the talc issue.
What Is Talc?
Talc is a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It is commonly found in baby powder, body powder and makeup. According to the American Cancer Society,
“When talking about whether or not talcum powder is linked to cancer, it is important to distinguish between talc that contains asbestos and talc that is asbestos-free. Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled. This type of talc is not used in modern consumer products. The evidence about asbestos-free talc, which is still widely used, is less clear.”
The concerns about possible links between talcum powder and cancer (of the lung) have focused on talc miners who have had long-term exposure to natural talc, which contains asbestos. According to the American Cancer Society, “Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled. This type of talc is not used in modern consumer products.”
However, the American Cancer Society continues, “It has been suggested that talcum powder might cause cancer in the ovaries if the powder particles (applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary.
"Many studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary. Findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase. Many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk. But these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier. Two prospective cohort studies, which would not have the same type of potential bias, have not found an increased risk.
"For any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to very be small. Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues."
Until the research is sorted out, if you are looking for alternatives, good ones include powder with a cornstarch, rice starch or herbal base. All of these ingredients perform the same function: attract moisture to keep you dry, soothe itchy and irritated skin, cut down on friction and prevent rashes.