Is Talcum Powder Safe?

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What is talcum powder?

Talcum powder is a powder made of ground talc and silicates. Its properties are essentially that of moisture absorption and to prevent 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. You are probably exposed to talc on a daily basis without realizing it. Many common cosmetic products as bath powders, perfumed body powders, and even baby powders have talc added to them. In addition, a variety of other  products have been found to have lower quantities of added talc including chalk, some soaps, and deodorants.

Can talcum powder cause cancer?

The tenuous link between talcum powder and cancer has been one that has been circulating for a while. I have 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. 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, 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.

An article in the March 17, 1997 issue of U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT magazine begins its article called PROBLEM POWDER by warning that according to a study “A possible tie between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, long suspected because of talc’s chemical similarity to asbestos…..”exists.

Why should you be concerned about potential exposure to talc powder?

Many people use talc after bathing or to soothe irritated or inflamed skin. What most people don’t know is that there is an inextricable link between talc and asbestos, which virtually everyone knows causes cancer. In fact, the two are very similar. The dangers of talc have been well characterized by studies that show it to be similar in structure to asbestos, a well known cancer causing agent.

Talcum powder can cause breathing problems

Equally unsettling is the fact that talc has been associated with lung cancer when inhaled on a frequent basis. Many well meaning mothers routinely dust their babies with baby powder, completely unaware of the risk from inhalation of this potentially dangerous substance. There are even reports of infants dying from inhaling excessive amounts of baby powder containing talc. The dangers of talc to both babies and adults appear to be very real.

Even pets aren’t immune to the effects of talcum powder. Talc is a common ingredient in flea powder which unsuspecting pet owners often sprinkle on their dogs to prevent fleas. They may be not only endangering the health of their dogs, but the well being of the entire family with this dangerous practice.

Because the particles in talcum powder are so fine and light, if breathed in quantities, it can dry out the nasal passages and obstruct the airways. They can easily enter the lungs and set up an inflammatory reaction. This inflammatory reaction can cause short term problems such as pneumonia as well as chronic problems such as lung disease and cancer. 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. As a consequence, talc manufacturers have played down the link, whilst doing there best to ensure that their powders contain no asbestos fibres. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough.

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. Corn flour (cornstarch) is a well known moisture absorber and can be used in its pure form in place of talcum powder. There are some talc-free powders available in the market where the main ingredient is corn flour or rice powder.

So ask yourself this question, ‘Do I use talcum powder and risk the possible side effects, or do I use an alternative that is just as good, but safe ?’ You be the judge!

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  1. Danny
    27.04.10

    I think I should be safe, as I don’t use it.

    It’s interesting how we seem to use all these products without even considering where they come from.

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