In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified talcum powder — also known as baby powder — as a possible human carcinogen. Turns out that the seemingly-innocuous powder, made from the mineral talc (a rock that contains magnesium and silicon), can travel into the body and cause damaging inflammation, which can then lead to disease.
Johnson & Johnson, and other producers of talcum powder, have been unwilling to address this widespread health concern. Here’s what you need to know in order to protect yourself, and your family.
1. Ovarian Cancer
For years now, studies have proven that the use of talcum powder results in an increased risk of ovarian cancer — a deadly disease that is often fatal. Researchers theorize that, when women use talcum powder on their inner thighs or underwear, the particles can travel inside of the body. In fact, talc particles have been found in ovarian tumors.
Most gynecologists are now against this over-the-counter remedy, and many prominent doctors are also taking a stand against the powder. Cancer genetics expert Dr. Steven Narod argues that: “In the interests of public health, I believe we should caution women against using genital talcum powder.” Narod adds that it’s “disingenuous to state that there is no evidence that talc is associated with ovarian cancer.”
Why is talcum powder still being sold, then? After all, the first link between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer was discovered by Dr. Daniel Cramer in 1982. Given the amount of evidence against talcum powder, its continued production is clearly a classic tale of greed at the expense of others. As such, recent lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson have proven successful for victims.
2. Lung Cancer
For those who mine and mill the actual talc that goes into the baby powder we find on our store shelves, the risks are slightly different. Continued exposure to the dust has been shown to increase the risk for lung disease and lung cancer. In fact, in its natural form, talc often contains the deadly mineral asbestos.
In 1975 — 41 years ago — the incidence of lung cancer among talc miners was studied by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The results were unsettling — talc workers were more likely to fall victim to lung cancer. This was considered “an unusual finding because working people usually are healthier than the general U.S. population.”
Interestingly, some of the workers studied had only been working in the mine for a year or less. This fact has been used to discredit the findings. However, NIOSH believes that “although smoking or work exposures at other jobs may have contributed to these deaths, we do not think they explain the entire excess. We believe talc was also responsible.”
Even if you aren’t a talc miner, you should still be cautious. In the home, the application of talcum powder invariably creates a cloud of dust that can easily be breathed in.
3. Risk to Infants
Surprisingly, this harmful substance is marketed primarily for use on vulnerable infants — to keep the diaper area dry and rash free. Johnson & Johnson would like you to think that this product is perfectly safe, even wholesome. But shouldn’t we be more cautious when it comes to the health of our children?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has pointed out that baby powder can cause breathing trouble and serious lung damage for babies. Even small amounts can be harmful, especially for those who are premature, have congenital heart disease, or who've had RSV or frequent respiratory illnesses.
Thankfully, there is a growing movement disavowing the unnecessary practice of using baby powder on babies. At the end of the day, it’s quite despicable that companies have chosen to value financial earnings over the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, and have chosen not to admit or address these dangers.
What Comes Next
Because studies on the dangers of talcum powder cannot be designed and implemented (as that would be inhumane to the participants), researchers are forced to examine data concerning those who have used talcum powder vs. those who haven’t.
Again and again, these studies find that talcum powder is a dangerous substance. It is infuriating to realize that a product marketed as “wholesome” can have such devastating effects.
What needs to happen next is twofold. First, we must stop using this dangerous product, and spread the word to help others and prevent future disease. Second, we must hold corporations like Johnson & Johnson accountable for their corruption and greed, especially since they knew about these dangers for some time.
Thankfully, the justice system can provide reparations, and can also, hopefully, bring about meaningful change in corporate responsibility and in the health of our community.