When it comes to products like baby powder and face powder, talcum powder is a popular — and effective — ingredient in keeping your 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 your 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. 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 safe guidelines for talc-containing products.

On October 25, 2021, the FDA released results from a year-long sampling assignment that tested the asbestos content of random talc-containing cosmetics. The FDA researchers did not detect asbestos in any of the 50 tested samples.

But this is a change from 2019’s results, where asbestos was found in 9 out of 51 blinded cosmetic samples.

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. “Perineal” refers to the area between your genitals and anus.

In an older, small animal study, female rats exposed to talcum powder were not 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.

Research concerning ovarian cancer and talcum powder use is inconsistent, which means researchers have not been able to definitively say there is not a connection between the two. There are likely a few reasons for this.

One reason might be because ovarian cancer is relatively rare, which can make it harder for researchers to study. An estimated 21,410 women will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2021.

Another reason might be how researchers set up their study, which tends to affect their results. For example, long-term studies related to women who use talcum powder and track ovarian cancer tend to establish no relationship between the two.

But studies of women who are already diagnosed with ovarian cancer may sometimes find a potential connection between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer.

A 2019 critical review of 30 studies related to ovarian cancer and talcum powder concluded some women may be at higher risk for ovarian cancer if they use talcum powder. They include:

  • Hispanic women
  • white women
  • women (both pre- and postmenopausal) who use hormone therapy
  • women who apply talcum powder to their underwear

The researchers of this study concluded there is a “possible” connection between talcum powder use and 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.

Another 2019 study identified a positive association between talc use and endometrial cancer. This study was a retrospective one, which looked at women diagnosed with endometrial cancer and their habits.

But 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 endometrial cancer. Researchers found no significant association between talcum powder use in the genital area and development of endometrial cancer.

Even with long-term use, the slight increase in risk was not found to be statistically significant.

Cervical cancer

The research on cervical cancer and talcum powder use is limited. In a 2021 study of more than 49,000 women over 10 years, researchers examined if there was a connection between talcum powder use and women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The researchers did not identify an association between genital talcum powder use and cervical cancer.

But this is one of the first studies that examined the potential connection. 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.

But 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 do not 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 an increase in lung cancer mortality among talc-exposed miners, this same risk was not 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. 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, 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 some 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, taking precautions 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 for certain cancers and other studies demonstrating no increased risk. It’s still unclear why talc may be associated with some cancers.

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