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When it comes to products like baby powder and face powder, talcum powder is a popular — and effective — ingredient in keeping the skin dry and protected.

While talcum powder has a long history of use in the cosmetic industry, it has come under scrutiny for its potential link to cancer. Research has shown mixed results on the relationship between talc and various types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer and lung cancer.

This article will explore whether talcum powder causes cancer and how to reduce your exposure to talc in your everyday life.

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that contains a combination of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen.

When talc is mined and milled, it becomes talcum powder, which is commonly used in cosmetic products. Talcum powder is naturally absorbent, so it’s most often found in products that help keep the skin dry, such as baby powder or face makeup.

In its natural state, talc is often found in close proximity with asbestos, a hazardous substance that’s known to cause inflammation and lung cancer.

When talc is mined near asbestos, there’s the potential for cross-contamination to occur between the two minerals. Unfortunately, this contamination can lead to talcum powder that contains asbestos.

Due to the potential danger of asbestos-containing talcum powder, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a major role in setting forth safe guidelines for talc-containing products.

On March 9, 2020, the FDA released results from a year-long sampling assignment that tested the asbestos content of random talc-containing cosmetics. Despite the FDA-driven safety guidelines, asbestos was still found in nine product samples.

Results from the FDA sampling study demonstrate that there may still be a risk of asbestos exposure from modern cosmetics containing talcum powder.

Research on talcum powder and the risk of cancer is quite broad and covers various types of cancers, such as ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and more.

Ovarian cancer

One early review from 2008 analyzed the available literature on talcum powder use and ovarian cancer. Much of the research reviewed failed to find a link between perineal talcum powder dusting and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Even in animal studies, female rats exposed to talcum powder weren’t found to have increased incidence of ovarian cancer.

A recent analysis published in JAMA, which reviewed four cohort studies involving over 250,000 women, supported this early review. Results of this large analysis found that there was no statistically significant association between talcum powder use in the genital area and risk of ovarian cancer.

Endometrial cancer

An early study from 2010 initially suggested that perineal talcum powder use was associated with an increased risk of endometrial cancer, especially in postmenopausal women. “Perineal” refers to the area between the genitals and anus.

However, another study published a few years later found that neither lower nor upper body exposure to talcum powder increased endometrial cancer risk.

A more recent analysis of four large cohort studies, which included almost 210,000 women, also analyzed any potential link between talcum powder and uterine cancer. Researchers found no significant association between talcum powder use in the genital area and development of uterine cancer.

Even with long-term use, the slight increase in risk wasn’t found to be statistically significant.

Cervical cancer

The research on cervical cancer and talcum powder use is limited. To date, no research has directly linked the use of talcum powder with higher incidences of cervical cancer.

More research in this area is needed.

Breast cancer

Very little research is available on the relationship between breast cancer and talcum powder.

One study on cosmetics and cancer risk discussed the potential connection between certain cosmetics, such as body moisturizers with parabens, and breast cancer risk.

However, there’s no mention of any link between talcum powder exposure and breast cancer risk, in this study or any other available literature.

Lung cancer

Research on lung cancer and talcum powder primarily focuses on the increased risk of cancer from inhalation of talc. Although most people don’t inhale large amounts of talc, workers who mine talc may be more at risk for talc inhalation.

An early review of the research analyzed cancer risk in various populations, including talc miners and miners exposed to other hazardous substances. While there was in increase in lung cancer mortality among talc-exposed miners, this same risk wasn’t found in talc millers.

Researchers believe this may be due to the increased exposure of other dangerous substances when mining talc, but not milling it.

More recently, another meta-analysis reviewing 14 observational studies found a similar link between lung cancer and talc inhalation. Interestingly, this increased risk was found to be consistent whether the talc contained asbestos fibers or not.

According to the researchers, this may be due to the inflammatory nature of talc when inhaled — which occurs regardless of asbestos content.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), people who are concerned about developing cancer from talc should limit their exposure to it.

Unless you mine talc for a living, you can limit your exposure to talc by avoiding talc-containing cosmetic products. Baby powder, face powder, and other products that contain talcum powder can be substituted for safer products, such as pure corn starch.

If you do choose to continue using talc-containing cosmetics, make sure to do your research on the manufacturer to determine whether they have performed asbestos testing.

While it’s not always possible to know whether a product contains asbestos, doing your due diligence can help decrease your risk for exposure.

Although talcum powder has a long history of use as a cosmetic product, many people question whether it increases the risk of certain types of cancer.

Research on talcum powder and cancer is mixed, with some studies demonstrating only a small increase in risk of certain cancers.

If you’re concerned about your risk for cancer from exposure to talc, limiting the use of talc-containing cosmetics is the best way to reduce your risk.