Soon, baby powder might come with a warning label.
Johnson & Johnson was recently sued for $417 million by a woman who claims the company failed to warn consumers about the powder’s potential cancer risks. The plaintiff, Eva Echeverria, has used the company’s baby powder on her perineum daily since the 1950s. In 2007, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to court papers. Echeverria now wants to share her story and warn others of the dangerous consequences.
“She told me, ‘I’m not doing this for myself,’” Mark Robinson, Echeverria’s lawyer, said. “She knows she’s going to die. She’s doing this for other women. She wants to do something good before she leaves.”
Echeverria isn’t the first to make the connection between her cancer and baby powder; at the moment, more than 1,000 other people have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson with similar complaints. For decades, women have sprinkled baby powder on their inner thighs to prevent chafing, or used it on their underwear for its drying and freshening effects. But doing so could have serious consequences, and it’s one of the everyday habits that can harm your vaginal health. (Experts say that baby powder is one of the products you should never use on your baby, either.)
Here’s why: In the past, baby powder was made from a mineral called talc, which is known to absorb moisture and sooth chapped skin. But in its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, which can cause cancer if inhaled. Although talc powder was once found in many cosmetic products, most brands now use other substances, such as cornstarch, arrowroot, or rice powder. Moreover, all talcum products used in American homes have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.
At the moment, the scientific results are mixed on whether baby powder can cause ovarian cancer. Some studies have reported a slightly increased risk and some have reported no increase at all, according to the American Cancer Society. And only talc-based baby powder has been tentatively linked to ovarian cancer.
Regardless, experts still recommend leaving your vagina in its natural state. Cleaning down there with any kind of product can throw off its normal chemical balance, which could lead to infection or irritation. Bottom line: keeping your vagina product-free is the healthier (and safer!) way to go. Here’s 13 more things your vagina secretly wants to tell you.