What Is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is made from talc, a naturally occurring mineral. Talc is a form of magnesium silicate (magnesium, silicon, and oxygen) that is mined from ground deposits. It is one of the softest known minerals, and in its powder form, is most commonly used for personal care, bath, and beauty products.
In addition to being used in personal, bath, and beauty products, talc is a common ingredient in a number of cosmetic items. It is also used in manufacturing in a variety of industries, including paint, paper, rubber, ceramics, electric cable, chalk, food, and pharmaceuticals.
Are Talc and Talcum Powder FDA-Approved?
Because talcum powder is commonly used in cosmetic products, it did not have to receive FDA approval before going on the market. This is set forth in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It is required that cosmetic products be properly labeled and safe for consumer use, but companies do not have to share safety information about the products with the FDA.
The FDA keeps an eye on cosmetic products on the market and will take action regarding safety issues when it is necessary to protect public health. However, before the FDA can take that action, it must have credible scientific data showing the harm.
The FDA continues to monitor talc-based products for asbestos contamination.
Asbestos is sometimes present in the areas where talc is mined. This can lead to very small amounts of asbestos being found in talcum powders. Manufacturers maintain that their talcum powder products do not contain asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of minerals that are found in rocks and soil. It is made of fibers that are flexible, heat-resistant, and resistant to electricity and corrosion. These are highly desirable qualities, but, unfortunately, exposure to asbestos is incredibly toxic. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and it is known to cause cancers such as mesothelioma and cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovaries.
Talc may be harmful if it is swallowed or inhaled. Talc in its natural state contains asbestos. Asbestos is known to cause cancer if it is inhaled.
Talc poisoning is caused mostly by inhaling talc dust. Inhalation can be accidental or occur over a period of time. The most common symptom related to talc poisoning is breathing issues. Talc poisoning can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body.
Other symptoms of talc poisoning can include:
- Decreased or no urine output
- Eye irritation
- Throat irritation
- Low blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Shallow breathing
- Muscle twitching
- Blue skin
- Blue fingernails
- Blue lips
These symptoms should be taken seriously, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
Talcum powder has been popular as a bath and body item and for infant care because of its ability to absorb moisture. In its natural form, it is gray, green, or white and has a greasy texture. Most commercial talcum powders are white in color and have a soothing, silky feel that has a drying effect on the skin. This helps prevent the friction that causes heat rash. Talcum powder can also be effective in reducing or eliminating body odor.
Many people who are concerned about odor or discomfort from humidity have used talcum powder products, like Shower-to-Shower, under their arms, on their thighs, and in the genital area, especially during warmer weather. Traditionally, talcum powder was the primary ingredient in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder which was used on infants and children to prevent diaper rash.
Johnson & Johnson removed its talcum powder product from the United States market in 2020 and replaced it with a cornstarch-based baby powder product. It does, however, continue to market its talcum powder product in other countries.
Most other manufacturers have replaced the talc in their powder products with alternatives including corn starch or arrowroot powder, mainly due to concerns of respiratory problems. Over the past decades, however, evidence has emerged that talc may contribute to the development of ovarian cancer in women who have used it in the perineal (groin) or genital area. Some companies continue to manufacture and sell talcum powder products in the United States. Talc is still used in other cosmetic products – deodorant and makeup – as well.
Powder of any kind, whether talc-based or not, should not be used on or around babies. Inhaling the powder particles could injure their lungs. Parents should consult with pediatricians before using any powders on their babies.
There is not a direct link between the use of talc and cancer, but many people feel safer if they avoid talc-based products. Remember that talc is found in many products other than baby powder, so switching to talc-free brands for deodorant, cosmetics, powders, and other products is the best way to avoid exposure to talc.
There are two types of talc that may be linked to cancer: talc-containing asbestos and asbestos-free talc. The American Cancer Society notes that talc that contains asbestos is accepted as having the potential to cause cancer if it is inhaled. It is less clear if asbestos-free talc has that same potential.
There are two main focuses of the concerns surrounding talc and its potential to cause cancer:
- Whether long-term exposure to and inhalation of talc particles at work creates an increased risk of lung cancer
- Whether regular application of talcum powder to the genital area increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women
Scientific literature dating to the 1960s suggests a potential association between the use of talcum powder in the genital area and the risk of ovarian cancer. Further concerns about the use of talcum powder emerged in the 1970s due to the potential for asbestos contamination of talc. Asbestos is mined in similar locations, often very close to talc deposits. After the link between asbestos and cancer became clear, asbestos was banned from body care products. Today, all personal care products are asbestos-free.
In addition to past concerns about asbestos exposure, recent concerns have arisen regarding the use of talcum powder in the genital area and the development of ovarian cancer. There is some evidence that using talcum powder could increase the risk of reproductive cancers.
The first study examining the link between talc and ovarian cancer dates back to 1971 when researchers determined that 75% of the ovarian tumors they examined contained talc. They concluded that if talcum powder is applied to the genitals, it could migrate through the vaginal tract to the ovaries.
A decade later, in 1982, a Harvard University research study showed that talcum powder use correlated with a 30% increase in the chance of ovarian cancer. To date, over 40 studies have been performed examining the link between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder, with mixed results.
What Studies Have Been Done To Evaluate the Risk of Talc Products?
Two different types of studies have been used to assess the risk of using talcum products:
- The first type of study evaluates cancer rates in groups of people who have known exposure to talcum powder vs. those who are known not to have been exposed to talcum powder. Some medical professionals have objected to conclusions drawn in this type of study by citing problems with absolute recall, implying that people are incapable of remembering how often they did or did not use powder.
- The second type of study compares the cancer rates in talcum powder users to the overall cancer rate in the general population. This type of study may be useful in providing preliminary information but it can be difficult to draw definite conclusions as the data may be affected by many factors including other risks to cancer and the possibility that talcum powder may or may not play a role.
Despite the variance in results and collection methods, several studies concerning the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer do exist. Additionally, data from other studies has been analyzed in an effort to determine a link. Overall, 26 out of 40 studies show a small but definitive link between talcum powder use in the genital or perineal area and ovarian cancer. In addition, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, has classified talcum powder used in the genital area as a possible carcinogen for humans.
An article published in the New York Times suggested that Johnson & Johnson, a huge manufacturer of talcum powder, was fully aware of the risk of women developing ovarian cancer from the product used on the genitals. This information comes from a Johnson & Johnson internal memo written in 1997 that identified the potential risk but stated that the company believed the link was too small to be of concern. During this period, the company continued to market its talcum powder products without warning the public and even expanded its marketing platforms which targeted African-Americans and Hispanics.
Most manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, have replaced talcum powder in their products with other absorbent powders like cornstarch or arrowroot powder.
The American Cancer Society notes that there are studies that suggest there is an increased risk of lung cancer in workers who mined or milled talc. Other studies, however, do not show that link. It is difficult to know exactly how much of this increased risk is associated with talc because those workers would have also been exposed to other known carcinogens like asbestos and radon. Cosmetic talcum powder use has not been reported to increase the risk of lung cancer.
The American Cancer Society also notes that further research into the link between talcum powder and endometrial cancer in post-menopausal women is needed to determine if that link exists.
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the ovaries. The ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system and are where eggs are produced and released into the uterus via the fallopian tubes. The ovaries are also responsible for releasing the hormones estrogen and progesterone into the body. There are two of them and ovarian cancer could develop in just one or both ovaries.
Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect because it often doesn’t have noticeable symptoms in its earlier stages. Additionally, when symptoms do develop, they’re often mistaken for symptoms of something else.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal swelling
- Weight loss
- Feeling full very soon after eating
- Pelvic area discomfort
- Back pain
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Other changes to bowel habits
Johnson & Johnson and other talcum powder manufacturers are facing over 9,000 lawsuits filed by women or families of those who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder in the genital area. Lawsuits have been consolidated in federal and state courts in Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota, and California. A number of these lawsuits have been decided in favor of the plaintiffs, who were women diagnosed with ovarian cancer or family members of those who died from ovarian cancer. Total awards have already reached nearly $5 billion and thousands have yet to be settled. Johnson & Johnson may also expect that more lawsuits will be filed.
If you or a loved one has been a long-time user of Johnson & Johnson powder or any other talcum powder product and received an ovarian cancer diagnosis, compensation might be available. Though each case is unique and must be evaluated separately, you may be eligible for compensation for this costly and potentially deadly disease and should seek legal advice.
If you or someone you know have experienced any of the severe side effects linked to talcum powder usage or has been diagnosed with a cancer related to talcum powder exposure, you should consult with an attorney. Seeger Weiss, LLP is a firm experienced in handling talcum powder lawsuits. Contact them for a free consultation.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.