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Talcum Powder

Talc is a soft, naturally occurring mineral used in baby powders, makeup, deodorant, ceramics and paint. Some research also links talc to ovarian cancer and talc contaminated with asbestos to mesothelioma. Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers face thousands of lawsuits from people who claim their talc products caused cancer.

Talc is a naturally occurring silicate mineral mined from rock deposits in the Earth’s crust. In 2019, three companies operated talc mines in the United States, and they produced 630,000 tons of talc valued at about $24 million, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Manufacturers crush, dry and mill talc into a fine, soft, white powder called talcum powder. The powder serves as a lubricant and adds softness and shine to products. It prevents caking, absorbs moisture and makes products feel silky. This makes it a common ingredient in cosmetics, food additives and industrial products.

While talc is generally considered safe, some studies link the fine powder to health problems, and 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. Talcum powder has cosmetic and industrial uses.

Uses of Talc Produced and Sold in the United States in 2019
  • Paint – 23 percent
  • Export, refractories, insecticides and miscellaneous uses – 21 percent
  • Ceramics (including automotive catalytic converters) – 20 percent
  • Paper – 15 percent
  • Rubber – 4 percent
  • Roofing – 3 percent
  • Cosmetics – 2 percent

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The cosmetic talcum powder product most recognized by consumers in Johnson’s Baby Powder. 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 contested issue. Talcum powder manufacturers and suppliers say the powdery mineral used in cosmetic products is highly refined and safe. For example, nearly 40 years of studies by researchers and medical experts around the world support the safety of talc, according to Johnson & Johnson.

But a number of studies have linked the use of talcum powder to specific cancers, including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

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.

Registered Nurse Amy Keller explains talcum powder's possible link to cancer.

Does It Cause 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 scarring. This can lead to mesothelioma.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 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,” according to the agency’s June 2020 monographs on the identification of carcinogenic hazards to humans.

Does It Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Talcum Ovarian Cancer Stat

Scientific literature going back to the 1960s has suggested a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but there hasn’t been a conclusive determination, according to the FDA. Women in these studies used talcum powder around the genital area.

One 2016 study by Joellen M. Schildkraut and colleagues in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found African American women who used talcum powder on their genitals had a 44 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer.

The IARC has declared use of talc in the genital (perineal) region as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” according to the agency’s June 2020 monographs on the identification of carcinogenic hazards to humans.

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

Is It Safe for Babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has voiced concerns about baby powder for decades. The organization recommends against the use of talcum powders on babies because it can cause severe lung damage and breathing problems if inhaled.

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.

Other diseases linked to talc include:
  • Respiratory problems
  • Lung cancer
  • Talcosis
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia

Baby Powder Recall

In 2019, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in a sample it tested. In May 2020, the company announced it would stop selling talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada.

The decision came after juries awarded billions of dollars to people who said talcum powder products gave them ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.

But Johnson & Johnson has said its products are safe, and it stopped selling the products because of plummeting sales. Johnson’s Baby Powder makes up only about 0.5 percent of its consumer health business.

“Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product. We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom,” the company said in its statement.

Talc & Asbestos

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

Because of growing concerns about contaminated talc, the agency awarded AMA Analytical Services Inc. a one-year contract to test some talc-containing cosmetic products for asbestos in 2018. In March 2019, the FDA released the preliminary results. Forty-three samples tested negative for asbestos and nine tested positive.

More results are expected in 2021.

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. 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.

Johnson’s Baby Powder 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

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.

Registered Nurse Amy Keller reveals several alternatives to talc.
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 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

18 Cited Research Articles

Drugwatch.com writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

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  3. Bote, J. & Shannon, J. (2020, May 20). Does baby powder cause cancer? Johnson & Johnson stops selling talc powder after years of scrutiny. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/02/05/baby-powder-safe-use-does-cause-cancer-questions-answered/4657693002/
  4. Cramer, D.W. et al. (2016). The Association Between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer A Retrospective Case–Control Study in Two US States. Retrieved from https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/26860307/4820665.pdf?sequence=1
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  6. FDA.gov. (2020, August 18). Talc. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/talc
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2020, June 26). IARC Monographs On The Identification Of Carcinogenic Hazards To Humans. Retrieved from https://monographs.iarc.fr/list-of-classifications
  10. Johnson & Johnson. (2018). Baby Powder. Retrieved from https://www.johnsonsbaby.com/baby-products/johnsons-baby-powder
  11. Johnson & Johnson. (n.d.). 5 Important Facts About Talc. Retrieved from https://www.jnj.com/our-products/5-important-facts-about-the-safety-of-talc
  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. Schildkraut, J.M. et al. (2016). Association between Body Powder Use and Ovarian Cancer: The African American Cancer Epidemiology Study (AACES). Retrieved from https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/25/10/1411.abstract
  14. Terry, K.L. et al. (2013). Genital Powder Use and Risk of Ovarian Cancer: A Pooled Analysis of 8,525 Cases and 9,859 Controls. Retrieved from https://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/6/8/811
  15. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, September). Household Products Database. Talc (non-fibrous). Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20090131073225/https://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem&id=9
  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, October 18). Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. to Voluntarily Recall a Single Lot of Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts/johnson-johnson-consumer-inc-voluntarily-recall-single-lot-johnsons-baby-powder-united-states
  17. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, March 9). FDA In Brief: FDA Releases Final Report of Talc-containing Cosmetic Products Tested for Asbestos. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-brief/fda-brief-fda-releases-final-report-talc-containing-cosmetic-products-tested-asbestos
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