Talcum powder has been used in cosmetics, such as baby powder, for more than a century. It can absorb moisture and keep skin dry and cool.
But talcum powder has also been associated with cancer risks, though the research exploring this connection has produced mixed results.
The safety of talcum powder is in question largely because talc contains traces of asbestos, which is linked to cancer.
But because people with testicles sometimes use talcum powder to absorb sweat and moisture in the groin area, concerns about a link between talcum powder and testicular cancer remains.
There’s been no definitive research that specifically links talcum powder to testicular cancer risk, but it’s worth knowing more about this popular product before using it.
Read on to learn more on what we know about talcum powder and cancer.
The primary ingredient in talcum powder is talc, a mineral that contains asbestos. It also contains the following ingredients:
When inhaled, asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs — a condition known as asbestosis.
Asbestos has also been labeled a carcinogen, with mesothelioma the most common type of lung cancer linked to the substance.
The National Cancer Institute notes that asbestos exposure is associated with elevated risks of stomach and colorectal cancers.
This suggests that the cancer risk long-associated with talc may be related to factors apart from the presence of asbestos.
The same analysis above actually found that testicular cancer’s main environmental cause was exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides.
How is this problem being addressed?
Since the 1970s, the cosmetic industry has been phasing out the use of asbestos-containing talc, and the construction industry has moved away from asbestos-based fire-proof insulation in homes and other buildings.
However, scientists have continued to find traces of asbestos in numerous products. In 2020, the
The FDA also notes that the World Health Organization and other agencies have determined that there is “no known safe level of asbestos exposure.”
Of all the cancer concerns about talcum powder, the association with ovarian cancer appears to be the strongest.
A 2019 research review of 30 different studies found that the use of talcum powder in the perineal area (the space between the vulva and the anus) is a “possible cause” of ovarian cancer.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests that because ovarian cancer is somewhat uncommon, even large studies may not be able to detect slight risk increases.
However, the ACS also notes that this possible association remains an active area of research, in part because talc is still used in many products on the market today.
If you’re looking for alternative treatments for excessive testicular sweating, you have several safe options that don’t include talcum powder.
The consumer advocacy organization Drugwatch recommends the following talcum powder alternatives:
- Cornstarch. The primary ingredient in various organic baby powders, cornstarch absorbs moisture in a way similar to talcum powder.
- Baby powder. This should be blended with cornstarch or other safe ingredients to make it less of a skin irritant.
- Tapioca starch. This alternative comes from the cassava plant of South America.
- Kaolin clay. An absorbent substance, kaolin clay is an ingredient in a variety of soaps, powders, and other cosmetic products.
- Oat flour. This somewhat coarse product is made up of ground oats.
Treating the causes of sweating
If you have a condition such as hyperhidrosis (which causes excessive sweating, even in cooler weather or without a trigger to start perspiring), you may need medications or a procedure to interfere with your sweat glands.
You may also be able to cut down on testicular sweating by wearing underwear that isn’t tight, and that’s made of breathable fabrics. Caffeine and alcohol also may increase perspiration.
Thyroid disease and certain cancers, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia, may also increase your sweat production.
The possible cancer risk associated with talcum powder is uncertain, since studies have produced a range of findings.
There is a stronger suggestion that talcum powder may be linked to ovarian cancer risk, but there is no similar evidence directly connecting talc and testicular cancer.
If you are concerned about avoiding cancer risk, consider using other products, like cornstarch, that absorb moisture and keep the skin dry and cool. If testicular sweat seems to be a concern, talk with your doctor about your options.