Talc is one of the softest minerals in the world. As a powder, it can absorb oils, moisture, and odor, and reduce friction.
"Baby Powder" is also the product name of one popular talcum powder.
While talcum powder helps prevent diaper rash and infections in babies, adults use it as well. Some people use it on their genital areas, such as around their underwear to keep it dry.
Talcum powder is also an ingredient of various makeup products, such as setting powder and foundation.
Talc became popular as a cosmetic product when Johnson & Johnson started selling it in the late 1800s.
Manufacturers have to mine for talc. The mineral naturally tends to occur near asbestos in the earth. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with known carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects. Because of their proximity in the ground, many people claim that talcum powder also causes cancer. In this article, learn about these claims, as well as how to reduce any risk.
Some consumers believe that using baby powder causes cancer.
While manufacturers should take responsibility to select talc mining sites carefully to prevent asbestos contamination, there is no federal mandate to test the contents of cosmetic products.
Over 6,600 consumers have filed baby powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. Most of these consumers are women who have ovarian cancer. According to their claims, they believe that their cancer developed due to using talcum powder on their genitals.
These women back their claims with a variety of studies that have found that long-term use of talcum powder on female genitals may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Another concern regards asbestos contamination. In April 2018, Johnson & Johnson and another company were found guilty of selling products contaminated with asbestos.
Does baby powder cause cancer?
There is no clear scientific evidence suggesting that talcum powder causes cancer. At best, there is only a weak link.
More recently, a 2014 study found no link between talc and ovarian cancer.
However, research from 2016 found that using talc on the genitals could increase the risk of ovarian cancer by 33 percent in participants. However, the study relied on personal interviews based on participants' memories, which may not be accurate.
According to a 2018 review, there is a weak but statistically significant association between ovarian cancer and talcum powder used on genitals.
However, given this conflicting evidence, as well as many other risk factors of ovarian cancer, such as older age, long-term hormone therapy, family history, and genetics, scientists are unable to say for sure that talcum powder causes cancer.
What official health organizations say
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), talc-based powders are generally not carcinogenic. However, there is a small risk that talcum powder may be carcinogenic for humans when used on genitals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) repeatedly inhaling talc might harm the lungs.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a stand on the issue due to the ongoing scientific debate.
The European Union, however, has banned talc in beauty and health products, so people cannot purchase it in certain European countries.
Reducing the risk
Cornstarch powders are an alternative to talcum.
While talcum powder remains popular, there are no medical reasons to use it. The choice is up to the individual whether they wish to use talcum powder or not.
According to some reports, talcum powder may cause respiratory problems in babies if inhaled.
Alternatives to talc-based baby powders include:
- cornstarch powders
- arrowroot starch powders
- tapioca starch powders
- oat flour
- baking soda
- zinc-based diaper rash creams for infants and toddlers
Baby powder is a common name for talcum powder, as well as the name of the leading brand. Many people use talcum powder to absorb moisture and reduce friction to help prevent rashes and skin irritation.
While some studies suggest that talcum powder may cause ovarian cancer, many of them are poorly designed, small, or rely on personal recollections. There is no clear scientific evidence that talcum powder causes cancer.
However, the lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson may produce new research.
While U.S. health authorities do not have a clear stance on the use of talcum powders, many countries in Europe have banned its use in cosmetics.
To reduce the possible risk of cancer from talc products, people can use alternatives and talk to their doctor about their concerns.