Baby powder dangers and black body myths

Dangers of using baby powder. 

From baby's bottom to MaMa’s Yoni, talcum powder has been a staple hygiene product. Yet recent lawsuits against one of its largest producers, Johnson & Johnson, has alarmed many long-time users.

One of those long-time users was a black woman - Jacqueline Fox. Jacqueline sprinkled baby powder in her panties for almost 40 years. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2013 that she learned the dangers of talcum powder. Jacqueline joined over 1,000 other women in a suit against Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn consumers about its carcinogenic potential. She won her suit and was awarded $72 million in damages - months after her passing in 2015.

Jacqueline's story shed light on the harmful dangers of baby powder use for all women. However, with black women being four times more likely to use feminine hygiene products than white women, it begs the question - have black women been targeted by hygiene companies such as Johnson & Johnson?

To get a better understanding of the baby powder commotion, here is a breakdown of what talcum powder is, how it's used, the potential dangers and its connection to black women.

what is Talcum powder?

  • AKA “Talc” or "baby powder"

  • The softest known mineral     

  • Found in metamorphic rocks

  • Chemically similar to asbestos
  • Absorbs moisture, oils and odor

how is it commonly used?

  • Pharmaceuticals (including pills and antacids)

  • Animal feed (to prevent moisture buildup)

  • Latex condoms (acts as lubricant)

  • Crayons, chalk, paper, paint

  • Gum and candy

  • Eye-shadow, lipstick, blush

  • Tampons, sanitary pads, diaphragms

  • Baby powder, deodorant, soap, detergent


According to the American Medical Association talc is toxic.

  • It contributes to hardening of the fallopian tubes and cancer of the uterus, ovaries and prostate.

  • Its ability to absorb organic substances alters the vaginal flora when used around genitalia. This alteration leads to bumps, abscesses, cysts, tumors, herpes, sores and rashes.

  • If inhaled, it can cause pneumonia, lung irritation, vomiting and coughing.

is it harmful to babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents avoid baby powder.

  • Babies can easily inhale tiny particles of it that are light enough to be carried in the air. If inhaled, talc can dry an infant's mucous membranes, cause breathing trouble and serious lung damage.

  • Studies have shown that talc can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing in babies and obstruction of the airways. Some babies have developed pneumonia and some have died as a result of respiratory failure from inhaling the powder.

  • Applying talc to an infant's genitalia can lead to cancer of the reproductive organs.

have studies been done?

  • Studies published in the 1960's and 1970's identified health concerns about the use of talc that contained asbestos in some cosmetic products.

  • A 1971 paper found particles of talc embedded in 75% of the ovarian tumors studied.

  • A 1992 publication in Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that a woman’s frequent talc use on her genitals increased her risk of ovarian cancer by threefold.

  • In 2002, the president of the industry’s Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, Edward Kavanaugh, conceded that talc is toxic and “can reach the human ovaries.”

  • A paper in the Journal of Epidemiology reported a 33% higher risk of ovarian cancer in women who said they routinely applied talc to their genitals, sanitary napkins, tampons and underwear.

have black women been targeted?

Black women are four times more likely than white women to use feminine hygiene products. Many of which, like Talcum, are carcinogenic and can lead to series reproductive issues. So why are black women using these products more than other demographics? Two reasons have surfaced:

1. Black Body Myths -

The "unclean black body" is a myth rooted in racism - stemming from slavery. Sadly, this offensive stereotype followed emancipated black women as they sought assimilation into white society.

  • "The first documented reference to douching comes in an 1803 medical manual for the treatment of West Indian Slaves, which lists excessive vaginal discharge as a common complaint and prescribes twice-daily douching" - Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley
  • “For many recently emancipated African Americans, a clean and odor-free body signified personal progress and enterprise and the hope for racial assimilation…” - Michelle Ferranti

  • "If racism posits that blacks reek, and misogyny teaches us that vaginas are rank, how difficult does it become for black women to love the scent of our healthy vagina?" - Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley

2. Target Marketing

As studies surfaced exposing the harmful effects of talcum powder, sales dropped in the white community. With less access to the research, black women remained ill-aware and were targeted by Johnson & Johnson to compensate for their dropping sales.

  • “In the 1990s, Johnson & Johnson outlined a plan to hike flagging sales of its powder by targeting black and hispanic women, according to a company memorandum made public in recent lawsuits.” - Ronnie Cohen (Reuters Health)

  • “The company [Johnson & Johnson] is accused of marketing powder to African American women, encouraging them to purchase the product after use by their white counterparts dropped due to the risk of developing cancer.” - Tanasia Kenney

  • “Aggressive advertising is no longer necessary to maintain the practice of vaginal deodorization among African American women [because] the habit has been institutionalized as a cultural norm…” - Michelle Ferranti


This disturbing information exposes the urgency of natural and holistic vaginal care. If you’re experiencing abnormal odor, discharge, itching or other issues, it’s important to address the cause. Loading up on powders and scents only disguises the symptoms. I’ll write a follow-up post outlining healthy vaginal care strategies including healthy foods and cotton undies.

I want to hear from you! Comment below and let me know - has baby powder been a staple in your hygiene regimen?

If you, or anyone you know has been adversely affected by talcum powder, visit for more information and resources to file a claim. 

Peace + Be Well! Ashley, vaginas don’t smell like flowers or baby powder.
They smell like a human body
and part of claiming our full humanity
is being able to to be proud of every aspect of them.
— Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley

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