Talcum Powder (Talc)
Talc has been used for decades in various personal hygiene products to help prevent rashes and keep skin smooth. However, talc is also linked to life-threatening conditions, such as ovarian cancer in women.
What is Talc?
Talc is a mineral composed primarily of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It is a substance often found in cosmetic and personal hygiene products including baby powder, adult body powders and facial powders. Talc helps absorb moisture, freshen materials, and reduce friction to prevent rashes.
The most popular talc products for personal hygiene include:
- Johnson’s Baby Powder by Johnson & Johnson
- Shower to Shower by Valeant Pharmaceuticals
- Baby Magic Baby Powder
Although talc has been widely used for decades, lawsuits that have come to the surface claim serious health complications linked to its use. In fact, recent studies have reported that talc increases the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers by approximately 30 percent.
How does Talc work?
Talc is a component in countless everyday cosmetic and personal care products. Since it’s very absorbent, it helps create a dry surface and protects the skin.
Some other popular uses of talc include:
- Preventing diaper rashes
- Eliminating body odors
- Preventing skin from chafing due to friction
- Various cosmetics such as eyeshadow and lipstick
- Absorbing excess oil in hair
- Freshening clothes and other materials
SIDE EFFECTS of TALC
Long-term exposure to talc can cause harmful and potentially life-threatening side effects. Concerns typically stem from the link between talc and different types of cancer – specifically, ovarian, endometrial and lung cancers. It is important that individuals talk with their doctor if they experience any adverse side effects from using a talc-based product.
Additionally, talc has been linked to various respiratory issues due to the powder becoming airborne and inhaled. Over time, breathing in talc can cause wheezing, coughing and other lung irritation. These symptoms may lead to pneumonia, asthma or talcosis, a progressive pulmonary disease that can trigger irreversible conditions, like lung fibrosis and respiratory failure.
Common Side Effects
- Throat irritation
- Low blood pressure
Serious Side Effects
- Chest pain
- Twitching of facial muscles
- Inability to urinate
- Lung failure
Who is at Risk?
While anyone exposed to talc can develop severe health conditions, women and babies are more prone to be impacted by the negative side effects.
The most serious complication from the use of talc by women is ovarian cancer. When applied to sanitary napkins, the powder’s particles can travel up into the uterus to the ovary where it increases the probability of ovarian cancer cells developing. It’s estimated that the thousands of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year is related to the use of talc.
The Effects Of Talc On Children
The use of talc as baby powder has been linked to respiratory problems in infants. The practice of sprinkling powder on babies to prevent rashes and diaper irritation can be dangerous to the infant’s health.
When talc is inhaled by an infant, it can dry their mucous membranes and affect their breathing. Additionally, it can cause acute or chronic lung irritation, leading to the child’s airways being obstructed. Some reports have even suggested that babies can develop pneumonia as a result of respiratory failure from inhaling talc.
Talc used around older children can cause irritation when inhaled and may lead to other health concerns over the child’s lifetime.
Evidence of Talc Complications
As early as 1992, the Obstetrics & Gynecology publication reported that women who frequently use talc as a feminine hygiene product significantly increase their risk of ovarian cancer – up to threefold. Since then, numerous other studies have been conducted about the serious health risks associated with talc.
In 2009, groups part of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics insisted talc manufacturer Johnson & Johnson remove potentially harmful ingredients from its products. After years of petitioning, the manufacturer agreed to eliminate ingredients considered to be human carcinogens.
A year later in 2010, a study found that talc can also increase the risk of endometrial cancer, particularly among postmenopausal women.
Ultimately, in 2013, the Cancer Prevention Research medical journal published that talc used as a feminine hygiene product increased the risk of ovarian cancer by 20-30%.
Last Edited: September 19, 2016
- American Cancer Society. (2016). Talcum Powder and Cancer. July, 2016, http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Talcum Powder Poisoning. July 2016. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002719.htm
- Annie Negrin, MD. (2016). Talcum Powder: Just How Much Risk Does It Pose? July 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/annie-negrin-md/talcum-powder-just-how-mu_b_9352400.html
- Gertig, Hunter, Cramer, Colditz, Speizer, et al. (1999). Prospective Study of Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer. July 2016. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/92/3/249.full
- International Journal of Gynecological Cancer. (2015). Does Talc Exposure Cause Ovarian Cancer? July 2016. http://journals.lww.com/ijgc/Citation/2015/05001/DOES_TALC_EXPOSURE_CAUSE_OVARIAN_CANCER__.40.aspx
- Karageorgi S, Gates MA, Hankinson SE, De Vivo I. (2010). Perineal Use of Talcum Powder and Endometrial Cancer Risk. July 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20406962