This past Monday, millions of women panicked when a Missouri court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million to the family of Jacqueline Fox, a 62-year-old who’d died of ovarian cancer. The reason: Fox had used Johnson’s baby powder, as well as Shower to Shower, for 50 years.
Both sides marshaled a team of medical experts to prove the link between baby powder and ovarian cancer. One problem: For every study that shows a slightly elevated risk when women dust baby powder on their genitals, there are others showing no risk at all. (There’s NO chance of getting any kind of cancer when you use baby powder on other parts of your body.)
First, some facts. Women dust baby powder “down there” or sprinkle it on their underwear to soak up moisture or smells (or both). Powder particles can travel up the vagina, through the fallopian tubes, and into the ovaries. And while the talc in talcum powder used to be contaminated by asbestos, the Food and Drug Administration banned it from cosmetic powders in the 1970s–and recently randomly tested various products to see if they contained asbestos. They didn’t.
Now for the studies. Some, like this 2013 study, have found that women who used baby powder for many years had a slight increased chance (around 2 percent) of developing ovarian cancer. But these studies have relied on the women’s memory of how much baby powder they used–and for how long. Two larger studies, looking at women over many years, saw no connection at all.
Because of the murky research, we asked Dr. Cornelius Granai, M.D., the director of the women’s oncology program at Women & Infants Hospital, in Providence, RI, to weigh in. His take: He doesn’t believe there’s a risk, adding that the asbestos-like substances that were linked to the slightly elevated cancer risk were no longer in baby powder.
If you’re still worried, or feel you don’t want to take a chance because ovarian cancer runs in your family, switch to a talc-free baby powder that contains cornstarch.