In a landmark verdict on Monday, February 22, 2016, a Missouri state jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay $72 million dollars in damages to the family of Jacqueline Fox, who died of ovarian cancer in October of 2015 at the age of 62.
From Birmingham, Alabama, Fox had been using two products, Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, for over 35 years until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago. She was using both products for feminine hygiene, which is how it was marketed by J&J for years. You may remember the slogan, “Just a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away.”
Safety of J&J's Products Questioned for Years
Rumors about the safety of J&J products have been circulating for years. One ingredient in particular, talcum powder, found in Johnson's Baby Powder and other J&J products, has been called into question for over the three decades. As early as 1971, researchers began looking into the connection between talc and ovarian cancer. In 1982, the first study published on this subject demonstrated that women who regularly used talc powder (the main ingredient in Johnson's Baby Powder) for feminine hygiene were at a higher risk for ovarian cancer. In 1994, the advocacy group, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, asked the Food and Drug Administration to require a warning on products containing talc. The FDA said it lacked enough evidence to issue the warnings and J&J did not voluntarily issue them.
Fast forward to today, and nearly 20 studies have found increased rates of ovarian cancer in women who regular use talc for hygiene purposes. In the United States, 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer per year, and more than 14,000 die each year.
Johnson & Johnson Knew Their Product Wasn't Safe
This lawsuit–and hundreds of others–alleges that Johnson & Johnson has known about these risks for years and has willfully ignored them. The St. Louis journey found J&J guilty of negligence, conspiracy and fraud. Lawyers for the plaintiff uncovered internal documents that J&J knew for decades that talc found in its product could cause cancer–but they never warned the public.
How Do I Know What Products are Safe?
It can be very confusing and alarming to hear news like this–and it can leave you feeling like you don't know what products are safe. For one, if you're using talcum powder, it would be best to switch to a cornstarch-based cosmetic product instead.
It's also really important that you research the other beauty and cleaning products you use on yourself, on your children and in your home. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an amazing online resource called Skin Deep. This searchable database allows you to search for the products you use and check their overall safety, as well as find lists of recommended products. Visit ewg.org/skindeep.