Black Women Grooming
Single mother Evelyn de los Santos combs the hair of her daughters to prepare them for school in Capotillo, at a slum of some 100,000 inhabitants along Ozama River in Santo Domingo, March 7, 2012. Reuters/Ricardo Rojas

Two months after the landmark Missouri state jury award of $72 million (AUD$100 million) to the family of Alabama resident Jacqueline Fox, Johnson & Johnson is again facing another court on Monday. The April 11 trial before a St Louis circuit court is one of the over 1,000 lawsuits the multinational is facing over the charge by women that its talc powder causes ovarian cancer.

Bloomberg reports that after the Fox verdict, the family’s lawyers at Beasley Allen were deluged by 17,000 people who inquired about a possible lawsuit, of which the law firm is studying about 2,000 cases, plus 5,000 potential cases. The plaintiff in the Monday trial is Gloria Ristesund, a user of Johnson’s baby powder for 40 years, diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011.

Next trial is that of 40-year-old Tenesha Farrar, diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2013. Like Fox, Farrar is a black woman, the target of Johnson & Johnson’s marketing campaign to boost spending on talc powder for feminine hygiene.

The two, along with a lot of women, were taught since their childhood to place powder on their underwear to ensure they would smell fresh. Time explains that daily ritual is pact of “black women’s culture of self-care, one of the many ways we love and nurture bodies nobody else seems ready to pamper.”

A study by the George Washington University, which looked at vaginal douching, found that twice as many black women douched –using vaginal deodorisers and over-the-counter douches – compared to white women. The research discovered the products contain phthalates which has been linked to cancer. But that key ingredient was not listed on the products’ labels.

The pioneer study that first established a link between talc power use on the female genital and ovarian cancer was conducted in 1982 by Brigham & Women’s Hospital epidemiologist Daniel Cramer. Since the research was published in Cancer journal, more than 20 more epidemiological studies found higher risk of ovarian cancer by 33 percent on long-term perineal powder use.

But Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich insists, “Jury verdicts should not be confused with regulatory rulings or rigorous scientific findings.” She stresses, “The overwhelming body of scientific research and clinical evidence supports the safety of cosmetic talc.”

Outside the baby powder, Johnson & Johnson’s flagship, the multinational had spent more than $5 billion (AUD$6.6 billion) to settle legal claims over its products since 2013. But for Cramer, a paid expert and witness for the Foxes, it is not a question of money for the multinational. “I think it was pride of ownership. Baby Powder is a signature product for J&J,” Cramer points out.

However, for Farrar and the thousands of other women whose health have been compromised as she had to undergo chemotherapy and full hysterectomy, “I will never use another J&J product again” is a vow should would not only keep but also pass on to her daughters and granddaughters.