Over the past four decades, scientific evidence has been building about the carcinogenic properties of talc, an ingredient in Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed by women and their families claiming talc was responsible for their ovarian cancer, and that Johnson & Johnson and its supplier, Imerys Talc America Inc., were aware of these dangers, yet failed to warn consumers about the risk.
Since introducing the product over 120 years ago, Johnson & Johnson has worked aggressively to expand the market for baby powder, promoting it for numerous uses among infants, children and adults.
Although the company continues to insist that the product is “safe” and that evidence for its carcinogenicity is “inconclusive,” juries are continuing to award multi-million dollar judgments to women who have suffered ovarian cancer by having used baby powder for decades.
History and Background of Talcum Powder
The product that came to be known as “Baby Powder” was originally developed for use by surgeons. Johnson & Johnson was founded in 1885 as a manufacturer of surgical dressings, including the plasters used in casts for broken bones.
In response to a letter from a physician whose patients were complaining that the plasters caused skin irritation, the company's Scientific Director, Dr. Frederick B. Kilmer, recommended the use of scented Italian talcum powder in order to alleviate their discomfort. When it was discovered that the application of talc could also help to alleviate infant diaper rash, Kilmer went on to invent “Johnson's Toilet and Baby Powder,” which first arrived on pharmacy and drug store shelves in 1894.
Toilet and Baby Powder went on to become the foundation of an entire product line, which included skin cream, soap and shampoo, baby oil and other infant products. It was included in maternity kits distributed to midwives and obstetricians, eventually becoming a standard component of infant care.
Johnson & Johnson's marketing department was provided with plenty of material to work with as parents wrote to the company, expressing their delight with the product and sending photographs of their infants holding containers of Toilet and Baby Powder. Eventually, Johnson and Johnson became known as “the Baby Company,” and gained a reputation as the “most trusted brand in America.” To this day, consumers strongly associate the scent of baby powder with babies themselves – a prime example of scent being used as a powerful marketing tool.
Although Toilet and Baby Powder was originally intended for infant use, Johnson and Johnson soon started marketing the product to adult women after the turn of the 20th Century. In 1913, an advertisement featured the slogan, “Best for Baby, Best for You.”
Just over fifty years later, an ad ran in major magazines, featuring an attractive woman sprinkling Baby Powder on her bare shoulder with the words: “Want to feel cool, smooth and dry? It’s as easy as taking powder from a baby.” The company also actively promoted Baby Powder to African-Americans and Hispanics, who were major consumers of the product. A 1980 ad, featuring a black couple with their newborn baby, says, “Let our family take loving care of yours.”
By 1985, approximately 70 percent of Baby Powder was used by adults, according to an article in New York Times Magazine. Arguably, Baby Powder is the primary reason the value of Johnson & Johnson's Baby Products division is valued at over $2 billion today.
What is Talcum Powder
Talcum is a clay mineral used primarily in industrial applications as a filler, a binder, and a lubricant. Refined talc is also used in the manufacture of cosmetics in addition to its use in baby powder. Talcum is usually found near asbestos deposits. This was a serious health concern until the mid-1970s, when strict quality control methods were instituted to separate cosmetic and food-grade talc from industrial talc.
Today, there is virtually no asbestos present in consumer products containing talc. However, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine, exposure to talcum powder over an extended period of time can cause serious injuries and illness, including respiratory infections and lung cancer. Consumer Safety recommends the use of talc-free products containing corn starch and arrowroot.
Evidence of Baby Powder Carcinogenicity
While the manufacturer continues to claim that evidence of talc's carcinogenicity is “inconclusive,” a sizable and growing body of scientific research going back nearly fifty years indicates a strong association between the perineal (genital) use of talc and ovarian cancer.
- In 1971, four medical researchers in the U.K. published an article in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In that article, they reported the presence of talc particles in three-quarters of ovarian tumors that had been examined.
- In 1982, another article appearing in the journal Cancer reported the findings of a study involving 215 women suffering from epithelial ovarian cancer. Ninety-two of the women had used talc on a regular basis. The research team concluded that the results established “support for an association between talc and ovarian cancer.”
- In 1992, an investigation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston was published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, linking longtime use of perineal talc with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- In 2000, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published an article detailing a Harvard University study in which researchers concluded that “perineal talc use may modestly increase the risk of invasive serous ovarian cancer.”
- In 2011, a study published in Cancer Causes & Control found a “modest association” between ovarian cancer and exposure to perineal talc.
In general, prominent medical researchers, including obstetrician Dr. Daniel Cramer (lead author of the 1982 study) and Professor Karin Rosenblatt of the University of Illinois (contributor to the 2011 study) agree that regular perineal use of talc-containing products can increase a woman's risk of ovarian cancer by approximately 30%. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified the genital use of talc as “possibly carcinogenic.”
Johnson & Johnson continues to maintain there is no solid scientific evidence linking the peritoneal use of talc and ovarian cancer. However, they were so concerned about the possibility that when the first victim filed suit, they offered her $1.3 million to stay silent.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits
The lawsuits pending against the manufacturers of baby powder claim the companies failed to warn women of the increased risk of ovarian cancer when using the products for personal hygiene.
For extensive information on these court proceedings, visit our Talcum Powder Lawsuit Page. This page describes in detail the litigation pending against Johnson & Johnson, and how someone who has suffered ovarian cancer because of baby powder can participate in the court proceedings and receive compensation for their injuries.