Gloria Ristesund used the Johnson & Johnson talc-based powder products, including Baby Powder, on her genitals as a part of her hygienic routine for decades. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after undergoing hysterectomy and other related surgeries, something she believed to be related to her use of talc-based products. Her cancer is currently in remission.
Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with 20,000 women being diagnosed with the illness each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It accounts for 3 percent of all cancers in women.
The verdict adds to the ongoing debate about the safety of talc-based cosmetic products, and comes just three months after Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family of an Alabama woman who died from the same type of cancer. Despite these two losses, the company maintains that their products are safe and plan to appeal the recent decision.
Talcum powder is widely used in cosmetic products, including adult body and facial powders. The powder — made from talc, a mineral that consists of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen — is used to keep skin dry and protect against rashes. Some talc contains asbestos, a substance that has been linked to cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled, according to the American Cancer Society; however, this type of talc is not used in modern consumer products.
Dr. Daniel Cramer first suggested there was a link between using talcum powder on genitals and ovarian cancer in 1982. After this finding, he was reportedly called by companies for help putting warning labels on these kinds of products. A more recent study, released shortly after the February verdict, supported Cramer’s finding, that applying the product to genitals, underwear, and sanitary napkins could increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer risk by a third.
“The evidence is real clear that Johnson & Johnson has known about the dangers associated with talcum powder for over 30 years,” said Jim Onder, according to the New York Daily News. “Instead of giving a warning, what they did was targeted the groups most at risk for developing ovarian cancer.” The groups Onder is referring to are overweight women, black and Latino people.