Talcum powder is a powdered form of the mineral talc, valued for its ability to absorb moisture and reduce friction. This makes it a common ingredient in many household cosmetic and hygiene products like baby powder, adult face and body powder, and deodorizing powders. While the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel considers talc safe enough for human use, it has faced controversy and concerns over its safety in recent years.
What are the Concerns Regarding Talcum Powder?
In 2019, Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest manufacturers of baby powder, faced a series of over 14,000 lawsuits regarding the presence of asbestos in their talc-based products. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and the concern was that the products were causing mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer, as well as ovarian cancer.
The concerns were so great that J&J issued a recall of their well-known baby powder, however, the recall was later lifted, and the initial detection of asbestos was attributed to lab contamination. Today, J&J baby powder continues to be sold with the promise that it’s safe and asbestos-free. However, cancer scares are hard to shake, so further research was undertaken to determine just how safe talcum powder is.
Does Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Association, the evidence up to this point has not been very conclusive, with some studies reporting increased risks of cancer associated with talcum powder, and others not. However, a large-scale study was needed to explore the connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer more thoroughly.
A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) rose to the challenge. The researchers in this study pooled data from four large sample groups, totaling over 250,000 women over multiple decades. Self-reported data was gathered about the frequency and term length of powder use, as well as the incidence of ovarian cancer.
The difference in risk for developing ovarian cancer between women who used talcum powder and women who don’t was less than 1% for all populations. This is not a statistically significant difference, so the researchers concluded that the use of talcum powder is not a major risk factor for ovarian cancer.
Their results align with the conclusions of J&J and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel that talc is safe enough for use as an ingredient in cosmetics, even for infants.
If you’re still feeling skittish about using talcum powder, there are alternatives. Companies such as J&J offer versions of this product made with cornstarch instead of talcum powder. The American Cancer states that there is no evidence that connects cornstarch powders to any form of cancer.
What Do You Need to Do?
The good news is that if you use talcum powder on yourself or your children, you don’t have to discontinue use to prevent the risk of ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Association also reports that there has been no significant link between cosmetic talcum powder use and lung cancer, so while it’s a good idea to avoid breathing in excess powder that may irritate the lungs and sinuses, these products are safe enough for you and your family.
However, even conclusive evidence may be inconclusive, to a small degree. So while the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder is not significant, it is still important to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. There are many resources available for health and medical information that empower you to be proactive in care and prevention. As always, report any unusual symptoms to your OB-GYN.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a CT OBGYN based in Fairfield County, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowayton and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Women undergoing signs and symptoms of menopause can make an appointment with Laury for Hormone Replacement Therapy. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.