Have you ever applied baby powder to freshen up your vaginal area? If so, you’re in good company: 40% of women use talcum powder, at least occasionally, as part of their personal hygiene routine. So, it may come as a surprise to learn that scientists have linked this supposedly safe and wholesome product to ovarian cancer.

Thanks to a recent lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, more and more women are learning about the potential risk associated with using talc powder on the perineal area. In February, $72 million was awarded to the family of a Missouri woman who died from ovarian cancer, which she alleged was caused by using Johnson’s Baby Powder. The company is now facing over 1,200 other lawsuits claiming that the product can cause ovarian cancer.

J&J argues that the research has yet to substantiate a causal link between talc use and ovarian cancer and that it is deemed safe according to the U.S. Department of Health and other government agencies. (Thus far, using talcum powder on other parts of the body has not been shown to be problematic.)

The whole debate started in 1971 when British scientists discovered talc particles “deeply embedded” in a number of ovarian tumors. Since then, numerous studies have explored the possible link between talc use and ovarian cancer. However, the findings have been mixed. Some studies report an elevated risk — as high as 30-60% — and others find no increase at all.

Complicating matters, it’s unclear exactly how talc can cause ovarian cancer. Before the 1970s, talc was sometimes laced with asbestos — a known human carcinogen. But, modern consumer care products are asbestos-free. Some scientists theorize that talcum particles can migrate up the vagina and ultimately into the ovaries, causing an inflammatory response that can result in cancer.

So what are we to do: use talc or avoid it completely? Until we know more, we think it’s best to stay away. Internally, even J&J has acknowledged the potential toxicity of talc powder. According to the Associated Press, a J&J internal memo states that “‘anybody who denies the risk of using hygenic talc and ovarian cancer is ‘denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.’”

If you’re looking for that fresh feeling, opt for a talc-free powder, preferably one that is corn-, tapioca- and grain-free. (Starch feeds yeast, and the last thing any girl wants is to be walking around with a yeast infection!) Try a natural clay-based powder, like this one and this one, available at health food stores and online retailers.

Just make sure to read the labels: in addition to avoiding powders containing talc or starch, keep an eye out for other fillers (such as “fragrance”) that you may not want to put on your body.

Here’s to staying safe and staying dry.

Angelika Schlanger, PhD, is a Yale-trained-researcher, Health Coach, blogger, food-system reformer, and mom to three healthy eaters (well, sometimes). She helps institutions, individuals, and families create a balanced wellness program that is tailored to their individual needs. Angelika enjoys concocting healthier versions of classic recipes, growing her own organic veggies, and taking long naps on the beach. Read her articles and tips at homehealthlove.com and follow her on Twitter @homehealthlove.

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