Deadly Talc: Shower to Shower, Johnson’s Baby Powder to Blame for Ovarian Cancer Deaths
“Just a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away…” Johnson & Johnson® has used this slogan in marketing Shower to Shower Absorbent Body Powder® for years. And it has worked. For countless women, a dusting of talcum powder is a part of their daily feminine hygiene routine.
But this lightly scented body care product poses a significant health risk to women, particularly with steady use over long periods of time. Lurking within the smooth, white powder are microscopic mineral particles that can travel from a woman’s external genital area through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes and into the ovaries. There, the particles embed in tissue and cause inflammation that leads to cancer.
How could something so light and seemingly gentle be so deadly? Talc, a mixture of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen, is a naturally absorbent product that helps keep skin dry and rash-free and reduces friction. Used externally—away from orifices such as the mouth and nose and vagina—talc is generally considered safe, especially since a 1973 regulation banned asbestos from being included in the product.
Even without asbestos, however, talc can be dangerous. When inhaled, talc can cause severe, potentially fatal respiratory damage in children and adults; infants are especially vulnerable. A single incidence of acute exposure—such as a curious toddler’s playfully dumping a container out and inhaling the powdery cloud—can quickly cause respiratory failure. Prolonged exposure through, for example, working in talc mines, can lead to mesothelioma, the same lethal cancer that can develop after years of asbestos exposure.
J&J Has Denied the Talc-cancer Link since 1971
Since 1971, researchers have documented the link between talc used regularly for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer. Taken together, the scientific literature finds a 20% to 33% greater likelihood of ovarian cancer with longtime genital talc use.
Medical researchers have called for warning labels. Consumer advocacy groups have demanded accountability. Yet Johnson & Johnson® failed to act—even in 1999, when one of the company’s own medical consultants, Alfred Wehner, wrote a letter to the company likening its talc marketing to selling cigarettes, “denying the obvious in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.”
Johnson & Johnson® sold Shower to Shower® to Valeant Consumer Products, a division of Valeant Pharmaceuticals North America, in 2012. Valeant has continued to use Johnson & Johnson’s marketing strategy to appeal to women’s intimate hygiene concerns. “Your body perspires more places than just under your arms” is a classic Shower to Shower® slogan. Valeant’s Shower to Shower® website is identical to Johnson & Johnson’s® 2012 website, and nothing on the site suggests health dangers. Its home page features only photos of women. It states that “Shower to Shower® can be used all over your body.” It encourages “all over” use. And it gets fairly specific: “Sprinkle on problem areas to soothe skin that has been irritated from friction. Apply after a bikini wax to help reduce irritation and discomfort.”
The Science behind the Scandal
Researchers first observed talc particles in 10 of 12 cancerous ovarian tissue samples in 1971. Until 1973, talc could legally contain particles of asbestos, known to cause cancer. Since that time, several recent studies found that, even with asbestos removed, the remaining microscopic talc particulate in Shower to Shower® and other body powders raised the risk of ovarian cancer from 1 in 50 to 1 in 3.
By 2016, more than 20 epidemiological studies had demonstrated that talc used for feminine hygiene led to malignant tumors in the ovaries. Harvard Medical School Professor Daniel Cramer, MD, published the first such study in 1982 in the peer-reviewed medical journal Cancer. More recently, in December 2015, the journal Epidemiology published a study by Cramer and colleagues that showed the ovarian cancer rate was one-third higher for women who used talc in the genital area.
Johnson & Johnson® has long cited studies showing no correlation between talc and ovarian cancer. And those studies do exist. But an increasing body of evidence, with thousands of patient histories considered, points to genital talc use as the cause of ovarian cancer.
Fraud, Negligence, and Conspiracy
On February 25, 2016, the first damages were awarded in a talcum powder product liability case against Johnson & Johnson®. A Missouri court found the company liable for fraud, negligence, and conspiracy, awarding the family of the late Jacqueline Fox $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. Fox, who died of ovarian cancer at age 62, had used Shower to Shower® and Johnson’s Baby Powder regularly for 30 years for feminine hygiene.
After a month-long trial, it took the jurors just four hours to find the healthcare-products giant guilty as charged.
After the decision, J&J spokesperson Carol Goodrich told Bloomberg Business, “We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
What Victims and Their Families Can Do
Already, more than 1,200 talcum powder lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson® by ovarian cancer victims and their survivors seeking justice. Many of these are class action or mass tort lawsuits in which a few plaintiffs file on behalf of many others. Others are individual lawsuits, in which the plaintiff’s case is handled separately.
Women who have or have had ovarian cancer and have ever used Shower to Shower Absorbent Body Powder® or Johnson’s Baby Powder in the genital area may have a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson®. A person whose family member has died from ovarian cancer and may have used Shower to Shower Absorbent Powder® could also have a claim.
Law firms such as Miller Firm LLC offer a free legal consultation to determine whether someone has a case. The firm handles lawsuits individually, not as class actions with hundreds of plaintiffs, and the Miller Firm’s staff includes medical professionals specially trained to understand talc victim’s circumstances.
The court system is the only recourse for these victims and their families. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require approval of cosmetic products such as body powder. Manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson® are self-regulated, “are basically self-regulated and they know they can just basically get away with anything,” said Fox attorney Jere Beasley, a, calling this verdict “a tremendous signal to J&J and all of the cosmetic companies.”
“Johnson & Johnson® has known for many years Shower to Shower® and Johnson’s Baby Powder pose cause cancer in women who use it for feminine hygiene,” said Curtis Hoke, the attorney heading up Miller Firm LLC’s efforts to get justice for J&J’s talc victims. “This court decision opens the door for other lawsuits. J&J’s victims deserve justice.”
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Johnson and Johnson’s Shower to Shower® or Baby Powder, contact the Miller Firm today for a FREE CASE EVALUATION. Our medical and legal team will let you know if you have a case against Johnson & Johnson®.