In light of the recent California jury verdict of $417 million against Johnson and Johnson for not warning consumers about its talc products’ ovarian cancer risk, popular women’s magazine Cosmopolitan tells women “9 Things You Need to Know About Baby Powder and Cancer,” starting with the warning, “If I were a woman using it, I probably would stop.”
The popular magazine starts out by explaining to women that baby powders prior to the 1970s may have contained carcinogenic asbestos; since then the mineral has not been permitted in personal care products. However, asbestos-free talc, which is sold today, is independently associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer, with studies dating back to the early ‘80s finding that talc when used in the genital area can increase development of the disease. This is believed to be because talc particles travel to the ovaries where they cause chronic inflammation which is known to cause DNA damage, which can lead to cancer.
The article goes on to explain to women that it is believed that the more powder you use and the longer you use it the greater your risk; however, no one knows for sure how much is too much talcum powder. Women are advised against using it on a daily basis or for an extended period of time.
Cosmopolitan points out that, “While research suggests talcum powder use correlates to 30 percent to 60 percent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer,” this association does not surpass other important risk factors about which women should be aware, such as family history of ovarian cancer or age, which is the number one risk factor for ovarian cancer.
Other facts the publication passes along to its readers include a warning that talc products designed for babies aren’t safer than other products. All products containing talc carry the same risks.
However, one risk that cosmetic talc users do not seem to face is that of lung cancer. Mine workers with long-term exposure to talc fibers may experience increased risk of lung cancer, according to some research, but this risk does not seem to apply to inhalation by consumers of cosmetic talcum products.
Talc is found not only in powders but also in cosmetics, soap, toothpaste, antiperspirant, gum, and certain pills. The risk that is associated with cosmetic talc is specifically related to using powders for feminine hygiene. Women are encouraged not to overreact if they have used talc products this way in the past, but are advised by experts in the Cosmopolitan article to stop using it now on themselves and their children.
“If I were a woman using it, I probably would stop,” Kirsten Moysich, Ph.D., distinguished professor of oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer in Buffalo, New York, told Cosmopolitan. “It’s avoiding an exposure that is associated with a serious cancer, and is not addictive — it’s not like tobacco. It’s not something that has substantial health benefits other than perhaps personal comfort, so it’s just not necessary.”
As an alternative, women can use body powder made with cornstarch instead of talc. There has been no association found between cornstarch and ovarian cancer.