Does Talc Baby Powder Cause Cancer?

Does Talc Baby Powder Cause Cancer?

Have you ever heard about Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder? You probably have since this is the most popular baby powder in many countries, and lots of women use it both for their babies and themselves. But do you know about the thousands of lawsuits against the company that had been filed by dozens of women who developed ovarian cancer due to one particular ingredient in this baby powder? 

According to the cancer victims, Johnson & Johnson’s talc baby powder (otherwise known as talcum powder) caused them to develop ovarian cancer after using it over a long period of time, some even since they were infants. 

That being said, how are baby powders and ovarian cancer related? Does talc baby powder really cause cancer? In order to fully explain this, let’s first briefly explain what talc is...

What is Talc Exactly and How Is It Related to Cancer? 

Talc is an extremely soft mineral composed mostly of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Due to its softness, it’s easily crushed and transformed into powder form. 

In this form, talc has an impressive ability to absorb moisture, oils, and odor. Moreover, talcum powder reduces friction and has lubricant-like properties, which is why it’s a common ingredient in a myriad of cosmetic products like baby powders, setting powders, foundations, and blushes, but also other types of consumer products - like chewing gum, paints, sweets, and more.

When incorporated into baby powders, talc helps in reducing friction and absorbing moisture, its main purpose being to keep the baby’s skin dry. This prevents diaper rashes and infections, which is why many parents use baby powders to prevent their baby’s skin from getting irritated.

But wait, there’s more! Plenty of adults, especially women, also regularly use baby powder due to its great properties. They mostly use it in the genital area for the same purposes as one would use it on a baby’s bottom, or simply as a quick way to freshen up. After all, baby products should be the safest products out there, right?

So, if talc is such a useful ingredient, how is it related to cancer?

Well, in its natural form, some talc contains asbestos. If you don’t know, asbestos is also a mineral, but a mineral known for its carcinogenic properties. 

The FDA, of course, doesn’t allow products that contain talc contaminated with asbestos to hit the market, and in the late 70s, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association stated that no cosmetic product in the USA should contain any talc which contains even the smallest amount of asbestos. This sounds great in theory, but in practice, it’s a bit different. 

The problem is that neither the FDA nor the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association inspect or approve the talc-based cosmetic products before they hit the market. So how do we know for sure which talc-based products we daily use are completely free from asbestos and which aren’t?

Sorry to disappoint you, but it comes down to this: we can’t know for sure. Dozens of women who have used Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder over many decades claim this product to be the main cause for their ovarian cancer. So, does talcum powder really cause cancer? Let’s see.

Does Talcum Powder Cause Cancer? 

We wish we could give you a definitive yes or no answer to this question, but unfortunately, we can’t. 

Firstly, due to the fact that we can’t know which cosmetic products do have even the smallest traces of asbestos and which are completely asbestos-free. Secondly, because while talc-based powders which do contain asbestos are generally thought of as carcinogenic, especially when inhaled, we don’t know for sure when it comes to asbestos-free talc powders. And lastly, simply because there aren’t enough long-term studies that can confirm the link between talc baby powders and ovarian cancer.

That being said, as we already mentioned, there are plenty of lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson by women who developed ovarian cancer due to using their talc baby powder for many decades. Let’s briefly go over talcum powders and their connection to various types of cancer as reported by those who’ve used them.

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Most of the thousands of consumers who have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson are women who have developed ovarian cancer. They claim that the main culprit for that is their long-term use of the company’s talc baby powder which they believe is not completely asbestos-free. Some of them regularly used the product since they were infants, some even for 4 or 5 decades in a row. 

In 2018, the company awarded 22 women almost $5 billion after losing the battle in court. Despite this, they still claim that their products do not contain talc contaminated with asbestos. 

What do the studies say? Well, most of them have found some link between talc and ovarian cancer while some haven’t. A research from 2016 which examined a few thousand participants suffering from ovarian cancer concluded that if talc is used in the genital area for a longer period of time, there would be a 33% chance for women to develop ovarian cancer. Another study conducted 2 years later, in 2018, also suggests that talc-based powders increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women, but it can’t be said with complete certainty.

Another important thing you should know is that Reuters made an investigation where they found documents which show that Johnson & Johnson knew about the possibility that their baby powder does, in fact, contain asbestos. They knew for decades that some baby powders did test positive for asbestos but never said anything and kept that information for themselves. Of course, they say these claims are false but you can read the Reuters investigation and decide for yourself. 

All in all, we definitely need more long-term studies and research to be able to confirm the link between talc and ovarian cancer with certainty.

Talcum Powder and Lung Cancer

Since asbestos is a mineral with carcinogenic properties, known to cause cancer when inhaled, talc-based products contaminated with asbestos do increase the risk of developing lung cancer if frequently inhaled.

This can be seen in the talc miners and millers, which come in contact with asbestos-contaminated talc and according to some studies do have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. It’s also confirmed that when babies inhale talc, the tiny talc particles go into the lungs and cause various respiratory problems, possibly even lung cancer.

Because of this, some health experts want to see talc banned from every cosmetic product on the market. Will this happen? Only more studies will tell.

Talcum Powder and Other Types of Cancer

Connections have been made between talc baby powder and other types of cancer like uterine and stomach cancer. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough studies that confirm this so we cannot tell for sure.

What's the verdict?

As you can see, many claim that talc-based baby powders, especially those with asbestos-contaminated talc, are the cause for certain types of cancer. With more studies supporting this than not, and Johnson & Johnson claiming their baby powders are completely safe for everyone – it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to use it since we cannot make any claims.

That being said, what we can tell you is that you can avoid talc baby powders and use other alternatives like starch-based powders, for example, just to be on the safe side. If you’re unsure what to buy and where to look for, we’ve compiled a list of the best talc-free baby powder alternatives on the market today, so be sure to check it out.