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Talcum Powder

Talc is a soft, naturally occurring mineral used in baby powders, makeup and deodorant. Industrial manufacturers also use talc in products such as ceramics and paint. But, studies link asbestos-contaminated talcum powder to mesothelioma. Some research also links it to ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers face thousands of talcum powder lawsuits.

Talc is a naturally occurring silicate mineral. Companies mine it from rock deposits in the Earth’s crust.

Manufacturers crush, dry and mill it into a fine, soft, white powder called talcum powder. The powder serves as a lubricant and adds softness and shine to products.

Manufacturers use talc as an ingredient in common products such as baby powder, makeup and paint.

But, some studies link it to mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and respiratory problems. Safety concerns led to a rise in talcum powder lawsuits.

Talcum Powder Uses

People have been using talc as far back as ancient Egypt. Ancient Assyrians and Native Americans also used talc for a variety of purposes.

What Is Talcum Powder Made Of?
Talc is a natural mineral that is composed of four elements: magnesium, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen. The chemical name for talc is hydrous magnesium silicate. It is the softest known mineral.

Talcum powder has cosmetic and industrial uses.

In 1893, Johnson & Johnson released Johnson’s Baby Powder after discovering it could prevent diaper rash.

Then, companies began marketing it to women. They said talc was good for controlling odor and moisture in the genital area.

Industrial talc uses include food processing, ceramics and paints.

Examples of products that contain talc include:
Body Powder
Johnson’s Baby Powder, CVS Brand Baby Powder, Rite Aid Baby Powder, Anti Monkey Butt Powder, Assured Shower & Bath Absorbent Body Powder, Angel of Mine Baby Powder, Family Dollar Mild Baby Powder, Shower to Shower Morning Fresh Absorbent Body Powder
Blush
Maybelline New York Expert Wear Blush Gentle Rose, N.Y.C. New York Color Cheek Glow Powder Blush West Side Wine, NARS Blush Torrid
Eye Shadow
Physician’s Formula Shimmer Strips Custom Eye Enhancing Shadow & Liner Hazel Eyes, Black Radiance Eyeshadow Quartet Retro Chic, Stila Eye Shadow Trio Venus, Dior 5-Colour Iridescent Eyeshadow Petal Shine
Foundation
Black Opal True Color Liquid Foundation Heavenly Honey, Laura Mercier Foundation Powder Number 2
Face Powder
LA Colors Pressed Powder Nude, Revlon Color Stay Pressed Powder Fair, Cover Girl TruBlend Mineral Loose Mineral Powder Translucent Fair, Physician’s Formula Summer Eclipse Bronzing & Shimmery Face Powder Moonlight/Light Bronzer, Wet n Wild Bronzer Light/Medium, Iman Luxury Pressed Powder Clay Medium Dark, Coty Air Spun Loose Face Powder Translucent, Black Opal Color Fusion Powder Mosaic Raspberry Bronzer, Almay Nearly Naked Loose Powder Light/pale, Clinique Stay Matte Sheer Pressed Powder Invisible Matte
Industrial Products
Rust Oleum spray paints, Dupli-Color High Heat Paint with Ceramic, Glidden Brilliance Collection Ceiling Paint, Behr Interior-Exterior Oil-Base Semi-Gloss paint, Kilz Masonry Waterproofing Paint, National Gypsum ProForm All Purpose Joint Compound, Minwax Wood Putty, Glidden Interior Latex Paint, Owens Foamular 150 Extruded Polystyrene Insulation, various ceramic glazes and clays

Is Talcum Powder Safe?

Talc’s safety is a hotly contested issue.

Talcum powder manufacturers and suppliers say the powdery mineral used in cosmetic products is highly refined and safe. But a number of studies have linked the use of talcum powder to specific cancers, including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer says talc contaminated with asbestos is “carcinogenic to humans.” But the agency, which is a division of the World Health Organization, also specifies that asbestos-free talc is “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.”

The agency has declared use of talc in the genital region as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

While rare, repeated talc inhalation can cause progressive lung inflammation and damage. Babies who ingest or inhale baby powder can also develop talcum powder poisoning, which can be lethal.

Although talc in makeup has not been linked to cancer, it can cause other health problems. Inhalation of face powder can also cause breathing difficulties. Makeup containing talc should never be applied to broken skin because it may cause inflammation or infection.

Talc & Asbestos

Asbestos is a cancer-causing substance. Talc and asbestos occur naturally in the earth. In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos.

Talc Safety
The FDA has received questions about talc’s safety since the 1970s.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors cosmetic products for potential safety problems. But, there is no law that requires cosmetic companies to share their safety information with the FDA.

The FDA does not allow asbestos in talcum powder. But, the agency cannot guarantee that talc products sold in the U.S. are asbestos free.

Talc and Mesothelioma

Some studies and lawsuits link talcum powder contaminated with asbestos to mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma.

People may inhale or swallow talcum powder contaminated with asbestos fibers. It can cause inflammation and scaring. This can lead to mesothelioma.

Several people exposed to industrial and cosmetic talc contaminated with asbestos filed lawsuits. They said contaminated talc caused mesothelioma.

Diagnosed with mesothelioma or ovarian cancer after talcum powder use? Get A Free Case Review

Talc and Ovarian Cancer

Talcum Ovarian Cancer Stat

Some medical studies indicate that talc-based powders are associated with ovarian cancer. Women in these studies used talcum powder around the genital area.

One study showed women who use talc have a 20- to 30-percent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Thousands of women with ovarian cancer have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. They say J&J’s baby powder and Shower to Shower products caused ovarian cancer.

J&J and other manufacturers face millions in talcum powder jury verdicts and settlements.

Talc and Other Diseases

Some studies link talcum powder use to diseases other than mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.

Health organizations and medical professionals call for additional studies of talc and its safety. Some even warn against its use.

Lung Cancer is a known disease linked to Talcum Powder
Other diseases linked to talc include:
  • Respiratory problems
  • Lung cancer
  • Talcosis
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia

Talcum Powder Warning Labels

Major manufacturers of talcum powder do not have warning labels on their products. The U.S. government has not acted to remove the powders or add warning labels.

FDA Findings
The FDA has not found enough evidence to recommend ovarian cancer warning labels on baby powder.

Johnson & Johnson’s talc supplier added warning labels in 2006. J&J has yet to add similar warnings to its products.

J&J labels do caution against talcum powder inhalation. They also say that the powder is for external use only.

In 2017, evidence released in Eva Echeverria’s ovarian cancer trial showed other baby powder manufacturers added ovarian cancer warnings.

Brands with warnings include: Angel of Mine Baby Powder from Dollar Tree and Spring Fresh Powder sold at Walmart.

Alternatives to Talc

Cornstarch is the most well-known alternative to talc. Some baby powders are made with cornstarch instead of talc.

The American Cancer Society said there is no evidence linking cornstarch to cancer.

As concerns about the safety of talc grow, some makeup manufacturers are also introducing lines of talc-free cosmetics.

Other ingredients used as alternatives to talc include:
Kaolin
Kaolin is naturally occurring white cosmetic clay. Kaolin’s overall hazard level is considered low.
Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot Powder is a fine white powder similar to cornstarch.
Zinc Oxid
Zinc Oxide is best known as a mineral sunscreen. It is also used in mineral makeup as a thickener and whitener.
Boron Nitride
Boron Nitride diffuses light, can absorb excess oil in the face and disperses pigment evenly. Its overall health hazard is considered low, with some concerns of enhanced skin absorption.
Rice Starch
Rice Starch was widely used in face powders before it was replaced by talc. It has a tendency to cake when there is moisture. It can also become sticky and promote bacterial growth.
Silk Powder
Silk Powder is finely ground silk. If inhaled or swallowed, silk powder can cause severe allergic skin reactions and systemic reactions.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

Michelle Llamas, Senior Content Writer
Written By Michelle Llamas Senior Writer

Michelle Llamas has been writing articles and producing podcasts about drugs, medical devices and the FDA for seven years. She specializes in fluoroquinolone antibiotics, vaccines and products that affect women’s health such as Essure birth control, transvaginal mesh and talcum powder. Michelle collaborates with experts, including board-certified doctors, patients and advocates, to provide trusted health information to the public. Some of her qualifications include:

  • American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Engage Committee and Membership Committee member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in The Lancet, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and the Journal for Palliative Medicine
Edited By
Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Don Hill
Dr. Don Hill Internal Medicine & Oncology

14 Cited Research Articles

  1. American Cancer Society. (2016, May 3). Talcum Powder and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html
  2. Berfield, S. et al. (2016, March 31). Johnson & Johnson Has a Baby Powder Problem. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/
  3. Christensen, J. (2017, October 23). Judge overturns record verdict in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder trial. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/23/health/johnson-and-johnson-talcum-powder-trial-verdict-overturned/index.html
  4. Dekel, Y. et al. (2004, February). Talc Inhalation is a Life-Threatening Condition. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8110334_Talc_inhalation_is_a_life-threatening_condition/
  5. Dillner, L. (2016, February 29). Is it safe to use talcum powder? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/feb/29/is-it-safe-to-use-talcum-baby-powder-ovarian-cancer-johnson-johnson
  6. Epstein, S. S. (2009, November 11). Talcum Powder: The Hidden Dangers. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samuel-s-epstein/talcum-powder-the-hidden_b_279523.html
  7. FDA.gov. (2014, March 19). Talc. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/ingredients/ucm293184.htm
  8. Fisk, M.C. & Bross, T. (2017, May 4). J&J Loses $110 Million Verdict Over Talc Cancer-Link Claim. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-04/j-j-loses-110-million-verdict-over-talc-cancer-link-claim
  9. Fox, A. (2016, October 28). What You Need To Know About The Claim Linking Baby Powder To Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/talcum-powder-ovarian-cancer_us_57eadaf7e4b082aad9b7b2c6
  10. Hagan, P. (2013, June 18). Women who regularly use talcum powder increase their risk of ovarian cancer by 24%. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2343974/Women-regularly-use-talcum-powder-increase-risk-ovarian-cancer-24.html
  11. Henderson, W.J. et al. (1971, March). Talc and carcinoma of the ovary and cervix. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5558843
  12. Karageorgi, S. et al. (2010, May). Perineal Use of Talcum Powder and Endometrial Cancer Risk. Retrieved from http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/19/5/1269
  13. Rabin, R.C. (2016, May 23). Lawsuits Over Baby Powder Raise Questions About Cancer Risk. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/23/lawsuits-over-baby-powder-raise-questions-about-cancer-risk/?_r=0
  14. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, September). Household Products Database. Talc (non-fibrous). Retrieved from https://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem&id=9
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