Talcum powder. It seems innocent enough, but did you know scientists have been warning us about potential risks since the 1960s? Talcum powder is a mineral-based product used in baby powder and many other cosmetics. Although published health studies show a link between use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer, millions of men and women still use it to absorb moisture and promote freshness. (1) In fact, it’s still a popular diaper rash prevention tactic used in infants and young children.
Johnson & Johnson shelled out more than $700 million dollars in talcum powder/ovarian cancer-related lawsuit cases in 2016 and 2017 alone. Still, people continue to use products containing talc on themselves and their children. Maybe they aren’t convinced of the potential health hazards of talcum powder, even though many studies and case reports clearly point out its dangers.
Past reports have made it clear — you should never use baby powder or products containing talc on your skin. Plus, even inhaling these products can be problematic. The good news is that there are many natural alternatives for talcum powder that are completely safe and equally effective.
What Is the Use of Baby Powder?
Baby powder is commonly used to absorb moisture and cut down on friction. When applied to the skin, it can help prevent rashes and other skin irritations like chafing. Many women apply baby powder to their perineum, underwear or pads to keep the area fresh and dry.
Talcum powder is also commonly added to makeup products like foundation and cosmetic powder in order to prevent caking and ensure a smooth appearance. And parents commonly apply it to their infants and young children to prevent bacterial overgrowth, yeast and diaper rash.
Baby powder is a product name for talcum powder, which is made from talc, a clay mineral containing magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talc is mined in proximity to asbestos, another naturally occurring mineral known to have carcinogenic effects. According to information posted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “to prevent contamination of talc with asbestos, it is essential to select talc mining sites carefully and take steps to purify the ore sufficiently.” (2)
Although the FDA considers it unacceptable for cosmetic talc to be contaminated with asbestos, there’s no federal mandate to test and approve cosmetic products and ingredients before they land on stores shelves. In an effort to address the safety concerns of talc in powders and cosmetic products, the FDA conducted a survey in 2009 and 2010.
FDA asked nine talc suppliers to participate in the survey by sending samples of their talc. Of the nine suppliers, only four complied with the request. Meanwhile, tested purchased 34 cosmetic products in retail stores in the Washington D.C. area and tested them for asbestos contamination. The survey found no asbestos in any of the samples or products analyzed, but the FDA suggests these findings are limited because only four suppliers provided samples and the testing was limited to just 34 products. Therefore, this survey doesn’t prove that most or all talc-containing products sold in the United States are free of asbestos contamination. (3)
Baby Powder Cancer Threats & Beyond
1. Ovarian Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, many studies in women investigated talcum powder’s link to cancer in the ovaries. When a woman applies baby powder or any product containing talc to her genital area, the powder particles can travel through the vagina, into the uterus and fallopian tubes and to the ovaries. (4)
The first study suggesting the connection of talc and ovarian cancer came out in 1971, when talc particles turned up in human ovarian and uterine tumors. Then, in 1982, a study linked genital talc use with ovarian cancer. Since then, dozens of studies suggest a strong link.
A 2016 study conducted in Boston and published in Epidemiology analyzed the association of ovarian cancer and genital talc use. Researchers examined talc use among 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 women of similar ages and geographic locations that served as the controls. The data showed that genital use of talc increased ovarian cancer risk by 33 percent. The risk of cancer decreased as the longer a women went without using talcum powder in her genital region. Those who used the powder more frequently faced a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer. (5)
Another study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention involved more than 1,300 African American women. Baby powder use was common for 62.8 percent of the women with ovarian cancer, implying a significant association between baby powder use and ovarian cancer risk. (6)
According to a New York Times article published in August, 2017, a judge recently ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million dollars in damages to a 63-year-old woman who developed ovarian cancer after using baby powder on her genital area when she was eleven years old. There have been more than 5,000 baby powder-related cases against Johnson & Johnson, with lawsuits claiming carcinogenic effects. Damages to Johnson & Johnson between 2016 and 2017 exceed $700 million dollars. (7)
2. Lung Cancer
Although inhaling talcum powder alone may not be directly related to the development of lung cancer, there are studies that suggest an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases among talc miners and millers. This is most likely due to the varying forms of asbestos that can come into contact with talc.
A 2015 review of evidence published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine found an increase in lung cancer mortality rates among talc miners. However, talc exposure may have been confounded with other carcinogens and the data couldn’t be adjusted to measure the affects of talc only. (8)
Another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, evaluated the risk of lung cancer and respiratory disease among workers exposed to asbestos-free talc and silica in the manufacture of ceramic plumbing fixtures. Researchers found that workers exposed to high levels of silica dust and no talc did not face a significant risk of developing lung cancer. However, workers exposed to talc in addition to high levels of silica had a significant 2.5-fold increased risk of lung cancer. The mortality rate rose the longer someone was exposure to talc in the workplace. (9)
3. Lung Disease
Inhaling the very small particles that make up talcum powder can lead to lung irritation and respiratory distress. Continuous application of or exposure to talcum powder can negatively affect infants, children, teens and adults. Even asbestos-free talcum powder can cause irritation and inflammation of the respiratory system when ingested or inhaled.
A type of lung disease called pulmonary talcosis is a rare disorder caused by the inhalation of talc through occupational exposure or continued inhalation or ingestion of talc. A report published in BMJ Case Reports describes a 24-year-old woman who had a 4-month ritual of inhaling cosmetic talcum powder. She developed talcosis 10 years later. The disorder involves inflammation, chronic cough and difficulty breathing. (10)
4. Respiratory Conditions in Infants and Children
Many case reports of infants and preschool children experiencing adverse effects from talcum powder exist. Poison control center reports show incidents involving inhalation during a child’s diaper or clothing changing. When babies or children inhale the tiny particles in baby powder, it can produce a drying effect on their mucous membranes and affect breathing ability. If enough powder is inhaled in one moment or over time, it can lead to serious lung damage. (11)
A case report published in the BMJ describes a 12-week-old baby who accidentally inhaled and ingested baby powder accidentally spilt on his face during a diaper change. He immediately coughed and choked on the powder, then vomited and refused to eat. Four hours later he was admitted to the hospital with severe respiratory difficulties. Thirty minutes after hospital admission, his condition deteriorated and he went into respiratory arrest. After his airway was secured, he vomited a white talc-like substance. (12)
Talc granulomatosis occurs when intravenous drug abusers inject tablets containing talc that are intended for oral use. Talc is used in these tablets to hold the components of the medication together. Injecting talc into blood vessels can cause arterial obstruction, loss of blood flow to bone tissue, and the formation of granulomas in the lungs. Granulomas are formed by an infection or inflammation caused by the presence of a foreign substance. (13)
Where Else Talcum Powder It Hide?
Talc isn’t only present in baby powder; in fact, it’s hiding in products that many people use on a daily basis. Here’s a list of products that typically include talc:
- Bath bombs
- Shower products
- Feminine hygiene products
- Face powder
- Eye shadow
- Face masks
Before buying any of these products, look for “talcum powder” or “cosmetic talc” on the label. If you choose to use products containing talc, choose companies that certify their product is talc-free, especially if you are using the powder or lotion in your pelvic area.
Better Alternatives to Products Containing Talc
There are many natural and safe ways to prevent diaper rash in infants and young children. Instead of relying on commercial products to use on your baby’s skin, make your own DIY diaper rash cream that contains coconut oil, beeswax, shea butter, witch hazel and calendula. This homemade diaper cream will help reduce inflammation and skin irritation without putting your baby at risk.
Magnesium oil is another safe alternative. It has anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties that can help to heal diaper rash quickly.
Natural alternatives to using powders or products containing talc exist and help effectively absorb moisture and keep you feeling fresh. For example, there are many baking soda uses for your skin and hair.
If you’re looking for a natural alternative for foundation, try my DIY Foundation Makeup. It’s made with skin-healing and soothing ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, non-nanoparticle zinc oxide and vitamin E oil. To add color to this foundation, you use cinnamon and nutmeg, or cocoa powder.
And if you’ve ever wondered how to make lipstick, try my all-natural homemade lipstick with lavender. It’s made with ingredients that will soften and repair your skin, while also getting rid of undesirable lines.
- Baby powder is a product name for talcum powder, which is made from talc, a clay mineral that contains magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talc is mined in proximity to asbestos, another naturally occurring mineral that is known to possess carcinogenic effects.
- Many studies in women, infants, children and male miners or millers suggest that inhaling talc or applying products containing talc to the skin can cause health conditions like ovarian cancer, lung cancer, lung disease and respiratory disease.
- Using natural alternatives for products containing talc, including cosmetic foundation, deodorant, baby powder, lipstick and lotion, will help you to avoid the dangers of applying talc to your skin or inhaling it.
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