The possible link between talcum powder and cancer has been the subject of many scientific studies, with mixed results. A naturally occurring mineral, talc has the distinct disadvantage of forming in the Earth with asbestos, a well-known carcinogen.
Talc is used in a great many products, including baby power and makeup, due to its ability to absorb moisture. In addition, talc is used in the manufacturing of plastics, ceramic products like bathroom tiles, cookware, pottery, in paints, paper, roofing asphalt, insecticides and fungicides.
Although industry guidelines have suggested that no detectable amounts of asbestos be allowed in talc sold for cosmetic purposes, there are currently no federal mandates requiring companies test their talc products for the presence of asbestos.
The Talc-Asbestos Lawsuits
In 2018, cosmetic giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay nearly $5 billion to a small group of women who filed a personal injury lawsuit, claiming asbestos in the company’s talcum powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
News reports surrounding the case stated that internal Johnson & Johnson documents as recently as the early 2000’s indicated the company was aware that its talcum powder tested positive for asbestos, albeit in small amounts. The same documents indicated the company failed to disclose their findings to regulators or the general public.
The Dangers of Talc
There appears to be ample evidence of ties between regular use of talcum powder that contains asbestos around the vagina with ovarian cancer. For a woman to develop ovarian cancer, it seems the powder must travel up the mucus membranes in the vagina and reach the ovaries.
While some of the data may be interpreted in different ways, a 2013 study involving 20,000 women found that people who used any kind of powder as a drying agent near the vagina were 20% to 30% more likely to develop ovarian cancer than those who didn’t use powder.
The European Union has banned talc in beauty and health products, so people there are using powder products made with cornstarch.
Based on the number of pending lawsuits over the possible connection between asbestos-contaminated talc and cervical cancer, the matter may be far from over – with no definitive answer in sight.
And yet, many consumers seem to be following the popular adage that where there is smoke, there must be fire. Instead of reaching for the usual talcum powder, many are opting for powders made with cornstarch instead.
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