Talcum Powder and its Link to Cancer
By Christina Phillis
Talc, a common ingredient found in many household products such as body powders and cosmetics, has been subjected to renewed scrutiny as more people raise claims that it causes cancer. How could such a widely used product, in some cases lauded for its gentle touch, be able to cause such harm?
Made up mostly of the elements magnesium, silicon and oxygen, talc is a type of mineral. Talc is used to create talcum powder, which is generally used to absorb moisture and reduce friction. As a product for consumers it helps to keep skin dry and prevent rashes. For its ability to provide matte and opaque finishes it is used in many cosmetic products such as blush, face powder and eye shadow.
Does It Cause Cancer?
Most health organizations don’t specifically state that talc poses any kind of definite danger to people. The American Cancer Society (ACS) does not name talc as a known carcinogen, but it does acknowledge suggestions that have been made about talc as a possible causal agent in ovarian cancer if it comes in contact with the genital area. The International Agency for Research on Cancer characterizes use of products containing talc in the perineum region of the body as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The ACS also points out that it’s important to know the distinction between talc in its natural form, which contains asbestos, and talc that is asbestos-free. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn against certain methods of using talc in both forms. Inhalation of talc in any form should be avoided as it can have an effect on the lungs called talc pneumoconiosis. If it is inhaled, talc with asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer. Risks caused by breathing in the substance were the major concerns with talc in the 1960s, when the American Academy of Pediatrics advised against its use as a baby powder. Products sold in the United States containing talc have been asbestos-free since the 1970s. The people most at risk of inhaling the asbestos in talc are people who have long-term exposure to the substance at work, such as talc miners.
Although a strong link between cancer and products containing talc has not been proven, certain forms of talc can be harmful while others warrant further study.
What role does a company have in protecting consumers?
What should you do to ensure that the products you use don’t contain carcinogens?