Johnson & Johnson—one of the world’s largest healthcare companies—had a $417 million verdict tossed by a California judge who said the company is not responsible in the death of a woman who believes her terminal illness was caused by their baby powder product. The Oct. 20 ruling comes after a jury’s decision earlier in the year that decided to award plaintiff Eva Echeverria millions in damages.
Judge Maren Nelson of the Los Angeles Superior Court made her decision after ruling that the earlier trial was “underpinned by errors and insufficient evidence on both sides, culminating in excessive damages,” Reuters reports. Since Echeverria’s case went to trial, about 4,800 other plaintiffs across the country have since filed similar lawsuits. With the widespread attention to the household staple, it’s difficult not to wonder: does baby powder cause cancer?
The popular product has a long list of uses, from preventing diaper rashes to using it as a dry shampoo, or as a way to simply smell better. But women who use the product on the genital area may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, at least according to some studies. In 1971, researchers found talc particles (the mineral used in baby powder) in 10 of the 13 ovarian cancer tumors they examined. Many studies thereafter have continued to find a similar association; however, health experts are divided on the issue.
The American Cancer Society concludes that findings on studies of talcum powder and cancer, “have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase. . .For any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to very be small. Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues.”
Whereas, the National Cancer Institute, states: “The weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.” But, as The New York Times points out, the institute also writes elsewhere on their website that “it is not clear” if talc can affect the risk of ovarian cancer.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the ingredient, J&J continues to assure the public that their talc-based products are safe and effective. But if the varying evidence is enough to make you think twice about using talc powder, there’s other options to choose from that are instead made of cornstarch. J&J even makes a corn starch-based baby powder product.