You’ll have seen the story, it’s been ordered that Johnson and Johnson must pay a total of 72 million dollars (compensatory damages and a punishment payment) to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s baby powder for years. They are probably the world’s biggest manufacturers of personal care products and apparently there are still 1200 suits against them for both the baby powder and the Shower to Shower brand talc for feminine hygiene.

The plaintiffs believe the company knew about the risk of these products and the jurors reached their verdict within four hours with the jury foreman calling the company’s internal documents decisive.

This is the really upsetting thing about this case, I’ve been banging on for years and years about the issues with potentially carcinogenic chemicals in personal care products, the truth is many people don’t know, or at least are unclear of the dangers, we assume that if an ingredient has been passed safe for use and is included in a product sold for decades on every high street it must be ok, it seems however that they were aware of the scientific evidence around the safety of their products.

In its natural form talcum powder can sometimes contain asbestos and by law in states companies could only sell asbestos free talc, however this may also become carcinogenic especially if applied to the genital area as was the case for this 62 year old woman. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the World Health Organisation classifies talc-based body powders applied to the genital area as ‘potentially carcinogenic’ to humans and while I would guess it would have been argued that the exact cause of the cancer was unknown this could have played its part.

My take on this is that even if certain ingredients are passed safe for use it must be considered what happens when they interact with other chemicals, when they are left in sunlight, for example some chemicals become carcinogenic and can be hormone disrupters. I have avoided any form of talcum powder for over thirty years because in addition to the potential asbestos it usually contains artificial fragrances too, I wouldn’t think of putting it anywhere near the genital area and definitely not on babies, just dry their bottoms and apply a tiny amount of virgin coconut oil to protect and moisturise.

There’s a huge lesson here for manufacturers of personal care products – please don’t take a risk with our health and wellbeing, choose natural ingredients that are safe and if there’s any potential risk put a clear warning on there.

There’s a lesson for consumers too, we now have a massive burgeoning marketplace of organic and natural companies who are wholly ethical and transparent about their ingredients, do your own research and read the ingredients carefully, just as you would check for additives and colourings in food products, do the same with your skincare and cosmetics, remember that talc is often found in loose mineral cosmetics such as eye shadows and blushers too.

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Janey Lee Grace is the author of Look Great Naturally without ditching the lipstick
(Hay House)