Does Talc Powder Cause Cancer? Exposure Risks & Prevention

Talcum powder, or talc powder, is commonly used in products like baby and face powders in the cosmetic industry. Because of its inherent characteristics, the mineral can keep skin dry, providing a matte finish.

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral comprising a combination of magnesium, oxygen, silicon and hydrogen. When milled and mined, it becomes talcum powder, the actual product used in cosmetics. Since it’s naturally absorbent, talcum powder is most frequently used in products meant to keep the skin dry.

Because talc is mined directly from the earth, it can sometimes be contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos describes a set of naturally occurring minerals. Talc and asbestos can look alike during the mining process, which is why cross-contamination may occur, and they’re often found close to one another. The result of the cross-contamination is talcum powder that has asbestos, and asbestos is a known carcinogen.

In 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrances Association, a trade association, issued guidelines voluntarily that stated all talc used in cosmetic products in the U.S. should be free of any detectable amounts of asbestos.

If Asbestos is inadvertently mined when the talc is being collected there can be significant contamination.  If this happens it is very similar in size and color so it can go undetected.   If the  asbestos makes it through the manufacturing process and infiltrates the end product the resulting exposure during use could contribute to cancer development. Talc powder that’s not contaminated with detectable levels of asbestos has not definitively been associated with increased cancer risk, or at least so far, any lab results have been very mixed.

Asbestos does have definitive links to inflammation as well as a raised risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, abdominal cavity and heart.

In 2019, a study by FDA researchers found that 9 out of 51 blinded cosmetics were contaminated with asbestos. However, in another study in 2021 done by the FDA, researchers didn’t detect asbestos in any of the 50 tested samples.

Research on the links between talcum powder and cancer risks is extensive, covering many types of cancer, and there’s still a lot not yet understood or known. The research is ongoing.

Ovarian Cancer

When women use baby powder made from talc, they frequently put it on their genital area. There is concern that if the talcum powder contains asbestos, it could travel through the reproductive system, reaching the ovaries and contributing to inflammation, triggering ovarian cancer. Currently, available research that looks at ovarian cancer risks and the use of talcum powder in the genital area is inconsistent, and researchers can’t say for sure if there’s a link.

There are a few different reasons for this, including the fact that ovarian cancer itself is rare, so it can be challenging for researchers to study it. Also, many studies are set up in a way where no relationship can be established between talc powder use and ovarian cancer. Still, potential connections may be found in studies of women already diagnosed.

In 2019, a critical review of dozens of studies was conducted related to ovarian cancer and talcum powder, concluding that particular women may be at greater risk of ovarian cancer if they use these products. These include white and Hispanic women, women who apply talcum powder to their underwear, and women who use hormone therapy.

In this review, researchers concluded there is a possible connection between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder.According to the American Cancer Society, some studies have reported a small increased risk of ovarian cancer because of talc exposure. Still, they’re potentially biased since studies rely on the memory of talc use years earlier.

Endometrial Cancer

In a study in 2010, there was an initial suggestion perineal talcum powder could be associated with more of a risk of endometrial cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women. Another study in 2019 found an association between the use of talc and endometrial cancer. This study was retrospective, meaning it looked back at the habits of women already diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Another study a few years later found no increased endometrial risk associated with upper or lower-body talcum powder exposure.

Endometrial Cancer

There’s limited research looking at links between the use of talcum powder products and cervical cancer, and more research is needed.

Lung Cancer

A meta-analysis that reviewed 14 separate observational studies recently found links between lung cancer and talc inhalation, regardless of whether the talc contained asbestos fibers.

Researchers believe this could be because talc, when inhaled, is inflammatory regardless of its asbestos content.

Mesothelioma

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and when talc is contaminated with it, it may cause malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos is currently the primary known cause of mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive cancer. The latency period for asbestos exposure and subsequent development of mesothelioma can be long, ranging from 20 to 60 years.

Industrial talc has been found to contain some of the highest levels of asbestos, while cosmetic talc testing reveals contamination levels ranging from 0-30% asbestos. In January 2023, researchers outlined 166 mesothelioma cases in people with substantial talc product exposure. In 122 cases, cosmetic talc was the only known source of asbestos exposure.

What Regulatory and Expert Agencies Say

While there are still unknowns as far as the links between talc and various cancers, there are agencies and organizations that do classify talc as a carcinogen. A carcinogen is a substance that helps cancer grow or causes cancer. For example, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, says that talc containing asbestos is carcinogenic to humans. Currently, the IARC classifies inhaled talc that doesn’t contain asbestos as not being classified as a carcinogen to humans. Based on limited human study evidence, IARC says the genital use of talc-based powder is possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Johnson & Johnson Talc Products

The Johnson & Johnson company has been at the forefront of controversy and debate regarding the carcinogenic properties of talc. It announced it would end global sales of its talc baby powder products in 2023, following a similar announcement in the U.S. in 2020 when it switched to cornstarch-based products.

The company is currently facing more than 40,000 lawsuits alleging that J&J baby powder products are contaminated with asbestos, causing mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson said the lawsuits aren’t why it stopped using talc; instead, it wanted to meet consumer demand. However, in 2018, a New York Times and Reuters report found that internal documents from the company indicated executives had known about asbestos contamination since 1957, keeping the information from the public and regulators.

Other Lawsuits Against Manufacturers of Talcum Powder

It’s not just the Johnson & Johnson company facing legal action because of talcum powder products. In 2015, a California woman successfully sued Colgate-Palmolive over its Cashmere Bouquet. The woman said she’d used the talcum powder for 15 years, ultimately being diagnosed with mesothelioma. The jury awarded $13 million.

In 2021, a California jury awarded a man $4.8 million for mesothelioma developed after he used Old Spice talcum powder daily for 22 years. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017.

 For anyone who wants to prevent the risk of cancer, the best course of action is to avoid talc products altogether, but there’s simply not enough evidence to say they’re safe at this time. 

There will likely be ongoing debates and continued research on the connection between talc and cancers, including mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. Still, you should contact an attorney if you believe you could be at risk because of using talcum products for years. You could be eligible for a lawsuit leading to a verdict or settlement to help cover your medical costs if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

Categories

Related Posts

MENU