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An Australian researcher says women do not need to change their use of baby powder, despite a US court ruling that it caused a woman to develop fatal ovarian cancer.

A jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $US72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using the company’s products containing baby powder for 35 years.

But UNSW medical researcher, and Cancer Council Australia scientific adviser, Professor Bernard Stewart told SBS News there was still no definitive link between using baby powder and developing ovarian cancer.

He said a court room was “not the venue in which you settle scientific truths or objectivity”.

“The evidence has been around for some years and it is of such a nature that on the one hand we cannot dismiss out of hand the possibility that talcum powder may play a role in the development of ovarian cancer,” he said

“But the evidence, nonetheless, is so poor that it hasn’t to my knowledge justified any health authority in the world taking action even at the most trivial levels of putting warnings on talcum powder.”

Since the 1970s all talc products have had to be asbestos-free, but concerns over the possible cancer links have continued.

Professor Stewart said the results of studies searching for a causal link was “complex”.

“In some studies there is no association between use of talcum powder and increased risk of ovarian cancer,” he said.

“And even in those studies where there is an association, in several of those studies it’s inverse: that women who used talcum powder a lot had less risk than those who used it less frequently.

“There may be an association between talcum powder and cancer, but it may not be causal. Talcum powder may be, in this context, an indicator of some other socioeconomic factor that we don’t know about that is in fact the explanation for the increased risk.”

Johnson & Johnson, who first introduced talcum powder in 1894, have strongly rejected the link between their product and cancer.

“The talc used in all our global products is carefully selected and meets the highest quality, purity and compliance standards,” a company spokeswoman told SBS News in a statement.

“The recent jury outcome goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products, and while we sympathise with the family of the plaintiff, we strongly disagree with the outcome.”

A recent post on their website states:

The Facts About Talc Safety Baby Powder made from cosmetic talc is one of JOHNSON’s oldest products and a long time part of baby care rituals. JOHNSON’s Baby Powder continues to be popular with adults as well, and in many parts of the world, it remains an essential part of the makeup and skin care routines. With over 100 years of use, few ingredients have the same demonstrated performance, mildness and safety profile as cosmetic talc. We wanted to take this opportunity to share the facts about talc, so you’re well-informed.

JOHNSON’s talc products do not contain asbestos. A frequent misperception is that JOHNSON’s Baby Powder contains talc made with asbestos, a substance classified as cancer-causing. We use only U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) grade talc to ensure it meets the highest quality, purity and compliance standards. The talc used in all our global production is carefully selected and processed to be asbestos-free, which is confirmed by regular testing conducted since the 1970s.

  • The safety of talc is based on a long history of safe use and more than 30 years of research by independent researchers, scientific review boards and global authorities.
  • Talc is approved as safe for use in cosmetic and personal care products by the European Union, Canada and many other countries around the world, among them Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Israel, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia.
    The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), which identifies potential risk factors for many diseases, has not identified talc as a risk factor for ovarian cancer.
  • Since the early 1990s, many research papers and epidemiology studies have evaluated talc and perineal use and these studies have found talc to be safe. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study (2010) and the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Cohort (2014), the only two large-scale prospective studies looking at talc and ovarian cancer, found no causal relationship between talc and ovarian cancer.

Share your comments below.

  • I just wouldn’t use them at all just to be safe and especially not on babies.

    Reply

  • my midwife told me not to use it on babies because they inhale the dust floating around and that is bad for them

    Reply

  • Hm. Not a lt of solid evidence, and if you avoided everything that COULD cause cancer… There’s not much left.

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  • It was suggested to me to avoid talc based powders but I can’t remember why. We have instead been using corn starch based powders.

    Reply

  • I was told not to use talcum powder as at that time they suspected it was something that caused childhood asthma. My mum used to and I had asthma but my brothers didnt. I figured the asthma/talcum link was rubbish so I used it and none of my three kids had asthma.

    Reply

  • I find the evidence quite poor indeed. And I can’t believe that the jury ordered J&J to pay.

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  • I still use talcum powder on my bub

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  • I have never been a user of this but if there was a clear, unequivocal link there would have been far higher rates of ovarian cancer.

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  • I don’t use it not even in the kids nappies.

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  • This is an issue which will need a lot of information to be released and reviewed.

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  • I used to love it rubbed on my back when I was little. For some reason I used to get heat rash on my back in Summer, but not when Mum put J & J Talc Powder.

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  • I’ll still use it. Used Johnson and Johnson products for years and think they must have thought it was cheaper to pay out than to actually fight the case. The question is that its a scientific not a legal one in my opinion.

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  • I’m not using it any more. I threw out 3 botteks of Johnsons and johnsons baby powder lady night. It’s not worth the risk.

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  • Interesting. So much money, but how much is a life worth? Can’t put a price. I wonder if it really did cause it…

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  • I used this stuff heaps on me and my son, loved the smell! Not too worried.

    Reply

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