The tenous link between talcum powder and cancer has been one that has been circulating for a while. I’ve received a couple of forwarded emails over the past few years on this subject.
On the one hand, I’ve read reports that say that there is no real proven link between talcum powder and cancer. On the other hand, there are findings that say that particles in talcum powder can cause cancer, and most recently, ovarian cancer.
What is talcum powder?
Talcum powder is a powder made of ground talc and silicates. Its properties are essentially that of moisture absorption and prevents friction which is why it is used most commonly for babies to prevent nappy rash. You might also spot talc being used in some women’s powder cosmetics like body powder, loose powder or powder foundation or even in some mineral foundation. Whilst mineral makeup purists reject the inclusion of talc in foundation, talc is in fact a mineral so technically it can be included as mineral makeup.
Talcum Powder can cause breathing problems
Because the particles in talcum powder are so fine and light, if breathed in in quantities, it can dry out the nasal passages and obstruct the airways. Studies have found a link between talcum powder and breathing problems, pneumonia or swelling of the airways or even asthma. This is the reason why babies should not be allowed to play with talcum powder (if used on them) or to inhale talcum powder.
Can Talcum Powder cause Cancer?
Whilst research has been carried out into the link between talcum powder and cancer, the results are quite inconclusive as to whether talcum powder can cause cancer. However, the most recent research into the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer has suggested that using talcum powder in the pelvic area may increase the risks of getting ovarian cancer. Apparently the tiny particles can travel through the genital area to the ovaries and cause an inflammation which may cause cancer cells to flourish.
The findings, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, apply only to talcum powder used around the private parts, not on the rest of the body.
Experts from Harvard Medical School in Boston studied more than 3,000 women and found using talc merely once a week raised the risk of ovarian cancer by 36 per cent, rising to 41 per cent for those applying powder every day. (emphasis added by me)
This serves as a warning for those who use talcum powder around their genital area and for those with babies, to avoid the use of talcum powder on baby girls (I don’t know how it affects boys) especially in their genital area. For those who use talcum powder on other parts of the body, there has been no conclusive chain of causation found between the use of talc or talcum powder and cancer or ovarian cancer.
What are the alternatives to talcum powder?
If you are worried about how talc or talcum powder can affect you or your family, you might want to consider the alternatives available. Cornstarch is a well known moisture absorber and can be used in its pure form in place of talcum powder. There are also many talc-free powders available in the market where the main ingredient is corn starch or rice powder. For babies, you could consider creams or cornstarch which is found in many Asian kitchens. Locally in Malaysia, you might also want to consider using the traditional “bedak sejuk” or rice powder which has cooling properties, especially for irritated skin. I used to use it while growing up.
As this most recent warning affects us women in particular, it might be a good time to take note and to stop using talcum powder around the genital area (if you are using it) and to switch to alternatives. I don’t personally know anyone who uses talcum powder down there, but I guess they wouldn’t tell me if they were!
This is a community service message. 🙂