Talcum Powder And Your Safety: Harmful Or Useful?

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

For over 100 years, talcum powder has been used to help adult and children avoid rashes, absorb moisture and protect the skin. Founded at the turn of the century, talcum, or baby powder as it is also known, is a staple in millions of bathrooms and makeup bags. But while the public has become a lot more focused on what goes into our bodies, what goes on to the skin has increasingly become just as important. With recent billion-dollar litigations and harmful side effects, the product has become somewhat of a controversial item, shrouded in mystery and suspicion.

An American Creation

Talc is a soft mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Found in the Earth’s crust, it can be produced industrially as well for rubber, ceramics, tiling and plastics. The first use of talcum powder came in the early 1900s when Johnson & Johnson began marketing the creation towards mothers and their children; many adults also use it to prevent chafing and soak up odors from shoes. Today, Johnson & Johnson’s revenue from the sale of baby powder is more than $300 million, but although the company created a modern go-to product, it has raised a lot of eyebrows and concerns along the way. The biggest brand may have to pay settlements amounting to more than $20 billion in 2019 alone, making this their worst year yet.

Talc And Asbestos

A Cramer Study in 1981 found women’s risk of ovarian cancer increased by 98% when talc was used for feminine hygiene purposes. Prior to this, an internal Johnson & Johnson memo from 1975 acknowledged the disturbing link between ovarian cancer and the use of talc. In the decades following, similar studies and research have questioned the safety of talcum powder. Lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson claim dozens upon dozens of women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer as a result of using talc contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos is found in the same rock formations, and has been linked in the past to a rare cancer called mesothelioma.

On The Other Hand…

While there have been countless studies and debates surrounding the damages of talcum powder, users can find some solace in the fact that the American Cancer Society has conducted their own research, and concludes that asbestos-free talc has had mixed results, with very little to no increased risk of ovarian cancers. It is said that some studies could have biases or inaccuracies when test subjects have to remember how often they’ve used talc throughout their lives. In response to the growing concern, hygiene and makeup brands have created formulas that completely remove talc from the ingredients list altogether, opting for safer versions like pure cornstarch.

Potential consumers have a responsibility to understand what exactly is inside their powder. Baby powder is undeniably a great creation with a number of uses, but it is crucial to look over the ingredients list. Those worried with the possible detrimental reactions that can come with talcum powder could instead look for alternatives or limit their exposure.


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