Talc is the softest mineral in the world and an ingredient in modern baby powder and cosmetic products. Talcum powder's soft texture and moisture-absorbing properties improve the appearance of oily or damp skin and prevent bodily discomfort from chafing and rashes. Talc-containing powders have been valued as hygiene and beauty products for centuries, but in recent decades, growing scientific evidence of medical side effects has lead to controversy questioning its safety.
Risk to Infants
According to a clinical studies published in "British Medical Journal," infants are at risk for poisoning from the long-term inhalation of baby powder. Side effects can be as minor as cough and eye irritation or as serious as respiratory failure. In light of this risk, experts now suggest parents replace talc-containing powders with cornstarch-based products.
Ovarian Cancer Risk
The first study linking talc to ovarian cancer appeared in the British medical journal "Lancet" in 1971. This and subsequent studies sound highly alarming at first, but as the American Cancer Society notes, "In its natural form, talc may contain asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs." Asbestos, however, has been removed from commercially available talcum powders since the 1970s. Therefore, it is not clear that the higher rate of ovarian cancer found in women who apply genital talcum powder is caused by the talc itself or the asbestos found in earlier talcum powders.
Because of the lack of scientific consensus, the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers modern talc powder as "not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans." The National Toxicology Program "has not fully reviewed talc as a possible carcinogen."
No matter whether conclusive, the suspicion of a link to cancer and the known dangers of inhalation might be sufficient reasons for consumers to choose to reduce their exposure to talcum powder. Increasingly, new talc-free products are available to consumers.