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Parents Worry that Talcum Powder May Pose Risk to Babies and Children

Jun 20, 2016

With two trials over the link between Johnson's Baby Powder and ovarian cancer ending in large damage awards, parents have begun to question whether the popular talcum powder is safe for use on babies and young children.

Uncertain about the possible dangers of talcum powder and other conventional baby products, parents are increasingly turning to natural alternatives. Baby boutiques, like Eat/Sleep/Play in Summerville, South Carolina, stock skin care products from small, parent-owned companies. Green + Lovely, a brand sold at Eat/Sleep/Play has an arrowroot powder as an alternative to talcum powder. Arrowroot- and cornstarch-based baby powders are readily found in health food stores, natural baby boutiques, and online retailers. Jessica Alba's Honest Company was hugely successful in its first year, selling $10 million in natural products.

Talc, a naturally occurring mineral, is the main ingredient in Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder. These powders, best sellers for decades, have been heavily promoted as feminine hygiene products. But talcum powder has been linked to ovarian cancer in women who regularly used the Baby Powder as a feminine hygiene product. Talc has long been used in cosmetics and personal care products because it absorbs moisture and helps prevent rashes.

Johnson & Johnson is now the target of hundreds of lawsuits alleging that its talcum powders cause ovarian cancer. When women use talcum powder in the genital area or sprinkle it on their underwear, tampons, or sanitary pads, fine particles of talc can reach the ovaries. In one study, researchers found talc particles in ovarian tumors.

Documents in the legal cases indicate that though Johnson & Johnson's talc supplier added warning labels to talc in 2006, J&J did not add warnings to its products, according to the New York Times. Johnson's Baby Powder does carry a warning to keep it out of the reach of children and many pediatricians discourage talc use on babies, because of inhalation risks. Condom and surgical glove makers have stopped dusting their products with talc.

Studies of the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer have shown mixed outcomes but there is evidence of increased ovarian cancer risk in women who with longer-term use talcum powder in the genital area. Studies have indicated up to a 40 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer among talcum powder users. Many of the women who have filed lawsuits say they began using talcum powder as teenagers and continued to use it for decades.

Ovarian cancer is one of deadliest cancers. Some 20,000 women are diagnosed each year, often after the disease has spread, and more than 14,000 women die from the disease annually. The odds of a woman in the U.S. developing ovarian cancer are one in 70, with the odds among talc users, one in 53, according to epidemiological studies.

There is no approved screening method for the disease and early symptoms are often dismissed as menstrual or abdominal discomfort. Many times, the diagnosis comes when the disease is at an advanced stage, and has a worse prognosis.

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