Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Body Powder Doesn’t Need Asbestos to Be Potentially Harmful

June 17, 2014

Washington, DC The Johnson & Johnson body powder lawsuit filed by a California woman opens a window of insight into the sometimes murky area of medical and hygienic products, including what’s in them. And sometimes the reality of potential risk for harm from a so-called heritage product flies directly in the face of our perception of something heretofore regarded as completely safe and effective.

The class action launched in California at the end of April by plaintiff Mona Estrada - and other lawsuits similar to hers - has served to reveal an allegedly sinister side of a product that before now has always been held in the highest regard and totally beyond reproach: Johnson’s Baby Powder - a heritage talcum powder product used for generations not only for a baby’s bottom, but by women as a preferred and revered product for personal hygiene.

In Estrada’s case, she had been using Johnson’s Baby Powder for genital hygiene on a daily basis for 60 years or more. There was never any indication, Estrada holds, that talcum powder, which forms the basis for Johnson’s Baby Powder, has been associated with a 33 percent risk for ovarian cancer when used by women on their genitals.

Studies have been inconclusive. Some have pointed to an ovarian cancer risk, whereas others have not. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a habit of fence-sitting when studies are inconclusive in such fashion. However, a reference by the American Cancer Society that talcum powder “probably” increased the risk for ovarian cancer is enough to leave women aghast at the potential and possibility of a link between body powder and cancer.

Estrada notes that over the 60-plus years she has faithfully used Johnson’s Baby Powder, she has seen the product label change over time. But there has never been any reference to even the possibility of ovarian cancer in concert with the use of talcum powder on female genitalia. Her position is, if it’s a possibility, then it should be on the label and consumers should be allowed to know.

There are other worrisome and curious aspects of the talcum powder story, and any body powder lawsuit stemming from the use of talcum powder. Talcum powder at one time contained traces of asbestos. Prior to 1970, a lot of products did, and talcum powder was no different. However, as society began to catch on to the carcinogenic risks associated with asbestos, the formulation for talcum powder was changed and any traces of asbestos were removed.

However, the removal of asbestos from talcum powder has not stemmed the tide of litigation. The typical talcum powder lawsuit is based upon asbestos-free talcum powder. In other words, talcum powder does not appear to require asbestos to pose a risk for ovarian cancer in association with use for female hygienic purposes. Talc, it seems, can pose that risk all by itself…