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.
It is pertinent to note that this warning against talcum powder applies mainly to those who use talcum powder around their genitals (source and source):-
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. 🙂
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I’m jolly sure my mum used to apply talc powder on me privates, because I’ve seen her doing it on my brother when he was a baby. Oh dear.
But thanks for the info, Paris. This would be useful for me for when I do have kids next time 🙂
You know what? I’m sure my mom did too when I was a baby! Does that mean we are all doomed?! 😛 Still I was never aware of talcum powder down there as a solution for anything so I’m not sure why there are people putting it on themselves. Any idea?
i only use talcum powder on the skin, no where down south! I find it weird to use it there. LOL!
i think i shud look for substitutes now… what brand… hm…
Thanks for the wonderful community service! I don’t use any talcum powder but I’ll give this a look again if I have “mini-Nikki ” 🙂
Can you suggest any other brands of powder that does not contain talc then? using constarch…sounds..a bit weird…haha…
Cheesey Poo says
I’d read about this some time ago… all my baby books and sites warned against using talc for baby bottoms, so I never used it on Connor.
I personally don’t do talc for myself… it kinda looks weird on my skin… white on erm.. what’s my colour now.. mocha? Heee…
I don’t remember when was the last time I used talcum powder. I was probably a kid!
Cornstarch as a substitute??
Good advice, Sue. I hear it’s not all that necessary for babies to be powdered. So am going to avoid it altogether!
I’m using talcum powder on my face, neck and tummy after shower but make sure no excess powder drop near to privates…
But then… the older days… the ingredients were super different. Though Talcum was there but the percentage is less… But there are more organic and Talc free powders out there… most of them are using corn powder to substitute and also Nuskin I love the baby wet powder which are mixed with Aloe Vera so that when applied to the baby they do not sniff it and it doesn’t give them sensitive nose. Which is good…
But then, there are some ppl who uses the puff to puff the powder on babies??? They wet it first then dab the powder which makes the powder wet. In a way the baby doesn’t sniff the powder too… But then Baby powders nowadays cannot be reliable. The Talcum percentage is quite high…
I use a lot of powder too. I love those from Crabtree&Evelyn as it’s Talcum free and it does really keep you dry. =) Though bcoz of the corn powder you will feel tat the powder is a big rough…
giddy tigress says
I stopped using talcum powder anywhere on meself after hubby made a statement that using it is like sprinkling DUST all over. LOL.
I guess people use it on babies to prevent nappy rash.
my mother, after reading this article i think from the newspaper told me that she never used baby powder on me.
instead she uses drapolene.
hope this helps.
do tell me if there is any side effects of this cream.
*hopefully not. haha
I remembered my Aunt using Drapolene on my baby cousins. I don’t know anything about it unfortunately not having been a mother myself! Perhaps I’d learn more about it if I do become one heh…
This is sad, since a lot of women think talc down there is required after shaving due to the “baby fresh smell”.(Which seems like an odd reason to use anything in the privates! Baby fresh for adults! ICK!!!)
I have made a body powder recently out of arrowroot powder and powdered lavender and chamomile flowers.
Interesting article , I use talc to take the oil out of my hair & give it some texture but won’t be doing that anymore…cornstarch all the way !
I gained a lot of weight recently, so I started using talcum powder to prevent friction between my thighs. Now I have to look around F????? suitable altenatives. Thank you.