Closer Look: Talc

Thursday, March 03, 2016

talc cancer dangers harm harmful benefits cosmetics ingredient research cosmetics food baby powder study studies

By now, you've probably heard about the dangers of talc. Just last week, news broke that Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million in damages in a case linked to ovarian cancer. One woman, Jacqueline Fox, used Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and Shower to Shower products for "feminine hygiene" for 35 years and died at age 62 with ovarian cancer. Both baby powder and the Shower to Shower product contain high amounts of talcum powder.

Talc is a naturally-occurring mineral which is commonly found to be contaminated with asbestos. Since the early 1970s, all commercial products containing talc in the United States have been asbestos-free. This begs the question: are products containing talc today still harmful to our bodies? When will we know, and will it be too late?

Like most other cosmetic ingredients, its continued "harmfulness" has been met with a fair share of controversy. In Canada, it is considered a "prohibited and restricted cosmetic ingredient." According to this Guardian article, a 2003 meta-analysis of 16 studies found that "talc was associated with a higher risk of ovarian cancer," but 11 years later, a study that looked at over 60,000 women found no associated risk. A woman was awarded $13 million last year for developing a mesothelioma from inadvertently inhaling a Colgate-Palmolive scented talcum powder while using it between 1961 and 1976. Yet others claim that talc causes long-term inflammation of the ovaries, which may then lead to cancer, when used in the pelvic area.

Just how common is talc? Turns out it's not only found in hygiene products such as baby powder and everyday cosmetics (facial powders, blush, eye shadow, etc.), but even in food (gum, rice). The FDA conducted a survey of four talc suppliers (five suppliers declined to participate) and 34 talc-containing cosmetic products (including Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and Shower to Shower powder) in 2009-2010 and found all products to be free of asbestos. The FDA concluded that while its small sample showed no traces of asbestos in commercially-available cosmetic products, its sample was too small to prove whether or not "most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination."

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recommends avoiding talc-containing products in the pelvic area. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s Skin Deep database rates talc's contamination concerns a 7 out of 10, or "high hazard." The American Cancer Society recommends looking at cornstarch as an alternative to talc-containing products.

As always, it's up to the consumer to make the final judgment call. Will you continue to use talc-containing products? If not, what brands/products will you reach for instead?

Read more:
+ U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Talc
+ Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database: Talc
+ American Cancer Society: Talcum Powder and Cancer
+ Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Talc
+ Cosmetics Info: Talc

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