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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.
Talc and Ovarian Cancer
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.
- Respiratory problems
- Lung cancer
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.
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.
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.
- 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.