• Aritri Dutta

Baby Powder- Cancer in a Bottle?

You’ve probably seen the word “carcinogen” pop up quite a lot on television. You’ve also seen the latest news articles about Johnson & Johnson banning their baby powder globally. Ever wondered why?

A carcinogen is any substance that promotes carcinogenesis (the formation of cancer). However, contact with carcinogens doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get sick. Your chance of getting cancer is dependent on many catalysts, like the duration of your exposure to carcinogens, and more importantly, your genes.

But, did you know that everyday items, like- asbestos, formaldehyde etc, are cancer-causing? Yes, that’s right. Tobacco is not the only product detrimental to your health!

Even deep-fried potatoes may give off a chemical called acrylamide. Research has proved that acrylamide is cancer-causing.

Similarly, talcum powder, made from talc, is laced with asbestos. In nature, talc mines are often found near asbestos deposits, and hence traces of this carcinogen may be found.

Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is undoubtedly the most popular talcum powder. Although it’s been a household staple for 125+ years, is it really safe to use?

What do studies suggest?

Multiple epidemiological studies have trumpeted a link between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer.

The scientific community first found evidence in the early 1970s. Researchers discovered particles of talc in ovarian and cervical tumours. The plate-like talc particles have also been found in the lymph nodes of women with ovarian cancer.

A 2015 research paper had similar findings. It suggested that talc increased the risk of developing ovarian cancer from 30% to 60%. Eliminating its usage could protect more than a quarter of women who develop the deadly disease.

In light of these findings, tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed by consumers against J&J, claiming that usage of talcum powder has caused cancer.

As the scientific debate still rages on, many juries have sided with consumers in talcum powder lawsuits. Some of the cases have resulted in massive monetary awards. A good example would be when a New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, IMERYS SA, to pay $117 million to an investment banker who developed mesothelioma (a form of skin cancer) after decades of using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder.

The jury concluded that J&J knew its product contained trace amounts of asbestos for years but failed to warn consumers.

Fast forward to the present when J&J announced on 11th August 2022 that it would discontinue the sale of baby powder in 2023. The company stated that it had made a “commercial decision” to switch to talc-free cornstarch-based baby powder. However, it maintained its stance that its product continues to remain asbestos-free since the 1970s. It reiterated that the decision was only to ‘optimize’ its product portfolio.

Nevertheless, experts suggest that reducing exposure to talc-based products and all other forms of carcinogen is the safest alternative. Start reading labels on products and check for traces of anything cancer-causing! A small effort can save you and your loved ones :)



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