Talcum powder is a white substance made from talc, a type of very soft mineral. In a finely ground form (powder), talc is good at absorbing moisture and oils, as well as reducing friction and preventing chafing. These properties have led to the widespread use of talcum powder in cosmetic products. Such products include body powders and feminine hygiene products.
Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J’s) Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower contain talcum powder and are used for feminine hygiene. Both products have been popular for decades.
J&J talcum powder products are cosmetics. Unlike drugs, cosmetic products do not require any regulatory approval or safety assessment (by the FDA or other agencies) before they go on the market. Furthermore, no regulations exist that establish specific manufacturing practice requirements for cosmetics.
As early as the 1970s, an association between talc and ovarian cancer was reported in the medical literature. Since talc is inert and does not break down in the body, perineal (genital) application of talcum powder can lead to migration of talc particles all the way into the ovaries, where they might cause adverse reactions leading to cancer. While J&J’s talcum powder products do not contain asbestos, some studies have found that talc and asbestos fibers may be chemically and structurally similar, and the ovarian cancer associated with talc may be similar to the mesothelioma that is caused by asbestos.
A 1992 study found that long-term perineal talc use in women during years when they were ovulating and had intact genital tracts was associated with almost three-fold higher risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer. Further evidence suggests that invasive serous cancer is the type of epithelial ovarian cancer most strongly associated with genital talc exposure.
Factors affecting the risk of ovarian cancer with perineal talc use include:
In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified “perineal use of talc-based body powder” as “possibly carcinogenic to human beings…”
While condom and tampon manufacturers have stopped using talc in their products due to safety concerns, J&J continues to market talc-containing powders, to tout their safety, and to encourage their daily application. In fact, J&J continues to claim that “few ingredients have the same… safety profile as cosmetic talc.”
In September 2012, a corporate representative testified that his company, Imerys, was J&J’s exclusive supplier of talc used in Baby Powder, and that perineal use of talc-based body powders can potentially lead to ovarian cancer.
In November 2013, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota found J&J negligent in its failure to warn consumers about the link between Baby Powder/Shower to Shower and ovarian cancer.
On February 22, 2016, a jury in the St. Louis City Circuit Court ordered J&J to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using J&J’s talc-containing powders. The award consists of $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages.
Currently, there are over 1,200 pending lawsuits alleging link between J&J’s talc-based powders and ovarian cancer. Most of the lawsuits are filed in Missouri and New Jersey state courts.
At Kaiser Gornick LLP, one of our experienced product liability lawyers can discuss your options for recovering compensation. Many injured patients face devastating physical, financial, and emotional losses after suffering from permanent damage caused by the drug. We can help you seek damages for economic and non-economic damages stemming from your injuries.