Toxic Talcum Powder: The Tip of the Iceberg for Women, African-American, and Latina Consumers

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You may have heard the news about an African-American woman named Jackie Fox who died from ovarian cancer, allegedly caused by the use of baby powder containing talc, a mineral also found in some makeup, adult powders/deodorants, condoms, and foundations.

Based on a report by the American Cancer Society: “talcum powder particles applied to the genital area, on sanitary napkins, or on condoms may migrate to the ovaries, where they can cause damage. Studies have found a higher risk of ovarian cancer among talc users.”

Read on to see why that last sentence is particularly relevant to African-American and Latina consumers.

It has now been reported that Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of the talc powder that Jackie Fox used, has been ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family on the grounds that J&J was aware of the possible link to ovarian cancer in consumers who use feminine hygiene products containing talc. It can also be harmful if inhaled.

Johnson & Johnson is only one of hundreds of personal care and cosmetics companies that are virtually left to self-regulate in the U.S. Thousands of potentially toxic chemicals end up in the products we use everyday, but for now let’s look at talc as an example to see how this happens.

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Deny, Deny, Deny

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson stated:

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

With an understanding of how scientific data can be interpreted to benefit industry giants and experience reviewing clinical studies in support of beneficial (or damaging) effects of a specific product or compound, this statement echoed the tactics employed by the tobacco, BigPharma, and processed food industries.

I’m calling bull on the statement that the association between talc and ovarian cancer “goes against decades of sound science”. How is it possible to go against “decades of sound science” when minimal inquiry has been made in decades past regarding the possible link to cancer? Sound science is in some instances driven by ROI rather than seeking the truth that can save lives; nobody’s gonna buy a new town home off the money from studying the health effects of talcum powder!

The growing body of more recent evidence, however, makes this defense much harder to swallow. So the soundbite in defense of Johnson & Johnson only works if you’re a consumer who’s unfamiliar with the potential harmful effects of your favorite product ingredients (and unfortunately that’s most of us). It’s also vital to find sources of information outside the 2 minute segment allowed to most media outlets, who in many cases are sponsored by the very industries they are supposed to be reporting about.

Studies finding varying risk levels for ovarian cancer associated with personal use of talc should at least merit a warning to consumers.

If you're interested in checking them out for yourself, here's a few:

Cramer, D. W., Liberman, R. F., Titus-Ernstoff, L., Welch, W. R., Greenberg, E. R., Baron, J. A. and Harlow, B. L. (1999), Genital talc exposure and risk of ovarian cancer. Int. J. Cancer, 81: 351–356. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0215(19990505)81:3<351::AID-IJC7>3.0.CO;2-M
Chang, S. and Risch, H. A. (1997), Perineal talc exposure and risk of ovarian carcinoma. Cancer, 79: 2396–2401. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0142(19970615)79:12<2396::AID-CNCR15>3.0.CO;2-M
Terry KL, Karageorgi S, Shvetsov YB, et al. Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 cases and 9,859 controls. Cancer prevention research (Philadelphia, Pa). 2013;6(8):811-821. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-13-0037
Ness, Roberta B. et al. Factors Related to Inflammation of the Ovarian Epithelium and Risk of Ovarian Cancer. Epidemiology: March 2000 - Volume 11 - Issue 2 - pp 111-117
Nicolas Wentzensen and Sholom Wacholder. Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: Epidemiology Between a Rock and a Hard Place JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2014) 106 (9): dju260 doi:10.1093/jnci/dju260 First published online September 10, 2014

FDA Appears Impotent to Ensure Safety of Personal and Cosmetic Ingredients

While talc (and thousands of other chemicals/ingredients) in cosmetic and personal items has been banned by the EU (European Union) and other countries, here in the U.S. it appears that we’re willing to experiment with people’s health for the sake of commerce.

Although the FDA can act on evidence of harm related to cosmetic products, it is not required to review cosmetic products for safety.

So I’m curious; now that a lawsuit has implicated talc as being related to the death of Ms. Fox, will the FDA now act on the evidence found? While the FDA has been monitoring potential adverse health effects of cosmetic talc use, the assumption has been that cosmetic talc products are safe because they are (now) asbestos-free:

Asbestos, once used as an ingredient in many commercial products (including talc), is now banned in many instances, regulated since the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. However, the FDA’s statement that scientific results linking (non-asbestos) talc and ovarian cancer is “non-conclusive” is the same stance concerning over a thousand other suspected harmful ingredients that are banned outside the U.S.:

It seems to me that if we are aware that something is even POSSIBLY a carcinogen,  consumers should be warned against sprinkling it around the most sensitive things (like babies? or cha-chas?!?)

Increased Risk for African American and Latina Women

In a recent report by the nonprofit organization Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), it was noted that women who use feminine hygiene products may be exposed to known or suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Squirm if you need to, but let’s look at it anyway:

Latina and black women are at even greater risk of potential chemical exposure due to being more likely than other women to use powders, deodorizers, douches, and wipes.

 

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And it seems that these types of companies have done their market research. Have you ever noticed the type of personal products emphasizing minority women?:

It’s a little uncomfortable to talk about. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable. But talking about something that usually remains private is preferable to reading about the premature death or illness of another Jackie Fox.

Now that you’ve glanced beneath the surface of the iceberg, be sure to subscribe to stay informed!

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Be GoldenWell.
Dannelle

P.S. A great resource to check your personal products for toxicity is http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

References

Scranton A. Chem Fatale: Potential Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Feminine Care Products. Missoula, MT:Women’s Voices for the Earth (November 2013). Available: http://goo.gl/BgIwdu [accessed 22 February 2016].

Czerwinski, B.S. (1996) Adult Feminine Hygiene Practices. Applied Nursing Research. Vol.9, No.3. pp: 123-129. August 1996.

 Zota, A (2012) Descriptive statistics on feminine hygiene use among U.S. reproductive-aged women, NHANES 2001-2004. Personal communication. 2012

Nicolas Wentzensen and Sholom Wacholder. JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2014) 106 (9): dju260 doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju260

Terry KL, Karageorgi, et al. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2013 Aug;6(8):811-21. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-13-0037. Epub 2013 Jun Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 cases and 9,859 controls.

Cramer, D. W., Liberman, R. F., Titus-Ernstoff, L., Welch, W. R., Greenberg, E. R., Baron, J. A. and Harlow, B. L. (1999), Genital talc exposure and risk of ovarian cancer. Int. J. Cancer, 81: 351–356. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0215(19990505)81:3<351::AID-IJC7>3.0.CO;2-M

Talcum Powder and Cancer. American Cancer Society (November 2014). Available: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer [accessed 25 February 2016].

 

DISCLAIMER: The content of this site should not be taken as medical advice. The conclusions expressed herein are those of the author. Neither the content on this site nor any links to other sites are intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your healthcare provider before beginning or altering your health regimen or course of treatment.

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  • Dannelle LeBlanc
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