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Is talc bad for you?

Andrea Asks:
Is talc bad for you?

The Right Brain Replies:
No Andrea, talk is not bad for you. In fact there is no research at all showing any correlation between speech and the health of your skin and hair, therefore we believe that…what? Oh, TALC, not talk. Sorry, let’s start over…

Talc causes cancer.

Or at least that’s what some people say. It doesn’t take much web-searching to find an article like this one that claims talc cause ovarian cancer. This article sites a scientific study and then concludes, and we quote:

Researchers have found talc particles in ovarian tumors and have found that women with ovarian cancer have used talcum powder in their genital area more frequently than healthy women.

That sounds pretty scary! But we looked up the journal that this article referenced and when we read it carefully it’s easy to see that that’s not exactly the conclusion of the researchers. Let’s examine it to see what the researchers REALLY did in the study and what their results were*:

1) First, how was talc applied in this study?
Either by direct application to the perineal area after bathing, application to sanitary napkin, or application to a diaphram before storage. This study was NOT concerned with talc applied to the legs, arms, etc.

2) What kind of talc products were studied?
There were three types of talc containing powders in this study: a) regular baby powder (which contains just talc and fragrance), b) deodorant powders (which contain talc, deodorizing ingredients, and other minerals including silica, and c) “other” talc containing powders.

3) What did their results show?
The study showed that the dedorant powders had the highest correlation to ovarian cancer. Why? They theorize that perhaps it’s related to the deodorizing ingredients or to the silica which has been shown to contain mineral fibers like HAVE been linked to cancer.

5) What was the researchers’ conclusion?
The authors state that more tests are necessary before drawing a final conclusion.

The Beauty Brains Bottom Line:
Is talc bad for you? In the researcher’s own words, the evidence that suggests it can contribute to ovarian cancer is inconclusive. So, there are two key things to learn from today’s post:

1) Testing is inconclusive, but if you’re worried about getting cancer from talc containing products, don’t apply them to your “private parts.”

2) Be very, very careful when interpreting any article that makes a scientific conculsion unless you’ve read the source article yourself and you fully understand it. It’s very easy to for someone else to misinterpret scientific studies of this type and twist the results to make their own point.

*Source: Harlow BL, Cramer DW, Bell DA, Welch WR. “Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk.” Obstetrics & Gynecology, 80: 19-26, 1992.

Two final comments:
At one time talc contained traces of asbestos fibers that have been linked to cancer. So any study involving talc should note if it involves the non-asbestiform talc or not.

There is also concern that talc causes lung cancer but we can deal with that in a future post.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sue Quintrell May 3, 2016, 9:04 am

    I enjoy powdering down after my bath. I use Avon products. I use it everyday.
    Should I be concerned, I never use on my private areas.

    • Randy Schueller May 3, 2016, 9:46 am

      As far as we know the talc used in cosmetic products is safe. However, given the number of lawsuits that have been settled recently, there is heightened concern about talc causing ovarian cancer. If we find more definitive evidence we’ll post something here.

  • VTChemical December 7, 2017, 1:16 am

    I will say this:
    I think talc powder can not cause cancer, because it is a mineral that has existed in the world since humans have not been formed and humans have used it for a long time. So I think jonson’s carcinogenic product is not talcum powder, and what do you guys think?

  • jennifer February 5, 2019, 4:18 pm

    you noted that you’ll comment on the claim that talc causes lung cancer in a future post. Can you update us?