Just Say No To Talc: Health Risks in Baby Powders

As National Cancer Prevention Month draws to a close, I thought this would be a really relevant topic to help raise awareness for moms and moms-to-be about the cancer risks found in common body care products.
I am really concerned that this popular brand of baby powder, promoted by many OB health professionals and advertised as a household staple for moms, is still formulated with two potentially harmful ingredients, talc and fragrance! The information below about the risks of talc comes from The Cancer Prevention Coalition website. You can read more about the risks of synthetic fragrances in my Healthy Moms article Is Your Favorite Fragrance Making You Sick? Be aware that talc is also an ingredient in many cosmetics and body powders.

Check out the easy recipe at the bottom of this post to make your own safe and economical baby or body powder using pure cornstarch and therapeutic essential oils.

Risks of Talcum Powder

Q. What is talc?

A. Talc is a mineral, produced by the mining of talc rocks and then processed by crushing, drying and milling. Processing eliminates a number of trace minerals from the talc, but does not separate minute fibers which are very similar to asbestos.

Q. What kinds of consumer products contain talc?

A. Talc is found in a wide variety of consumer products ranging from home and garden pesticides to antacids. However, the products most widely used and that pose the most serious health risks are body powders Talc is the main ingredient in baby powder, medicated powders, perfumed powders and designer perfumed body powders. Because talc is resistant to moisture, it is also used by the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture medications and is a listed ingredient of some antacids. Talc is the principal ingredient home and garden pesticides and flea and tick powders. Talc is used in smaller quantities in deodorants, chalk, crayons, textiles, soap, insulating materials, paints, asphalt filler, paper, and in food processing.

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Q. Why is talc harmful?

A. Talc is closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos. Talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims. For the last 30 years, scientists have closely scrutinized talc particles and found dangerous similarities to asbestos. Responding to this evidence in 1973, the FDA drafted a resolution that would limit the amount of asbestos-like fibers in cosmetic grade talc. However, no ruling has ever been made and today, cosmetic grade talc remains non-regulated by the federal government. This inaction ignores a 1993 National Toxicology Program report which found that cosmetic grade talc, without any asbestos-like fibers, caused tumors in animal subjects.1 Clearly with or without asbestos-like fibers, cosmetic grade talcum powder is a carcinogen.

Q. What kind of exposure is dangerous?

A. Talc is toxic. Talc particles cause tumors in human ovaries and lungs. Numerous studies have shown a strong link between frequent use of talc in the female genital area and ovarian cancer. Talc particles are able to move through the reproductive system and become imbedded in the lining of the ovary. 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.2
Talc poses a health risk when exposed to the lungs. Talc miners have shown higher rates of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses from exposure to industrial grade talc, which contains dangerous silica and asbestos. The common household hazard posed by talc is inhalation of baby powder by infants. Since the early 1980s, records show that several thousand infants each year have died or become seriously ill following accidental inhalation of baby powder.3

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Q. What about infants?

A. Talc is used on babies because it absorbs unpleasant moisture. Clearly, dusting with talcum powder endangers an infant’s lungs at the prospect of inhalation. Exposing children to this carcinogen is unnecessary and dangerous.

1. Do not buy or use products containing talc. It is especially important that women not apply talc to underwear or sanitary pads.
2. Contact your pediatrician and/or local hospital and find out if they have a policy regarding talc use and infants.
3. Write to the FDA and express your concern that a proven carcinogen has remained unregulated while millions of people are unknowingly exposed.

1.National Toxicology Program. “Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of talc (GAS No 14807-96-6) in F344/N rats and B6C3F, mice (Inhalation studies).” Technical Report Series No. 421. September 1993.
2. Harlow BL, Cramer DW, Bell DA, Welch WR. “Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk.” Obstetrics & Gynecology, 80: 19-26, 1992.
3. Hollinger MA. “Pulmonary toxicity of inhaled and intravenous talc.” Toxicology Letters, 52:121-127, 1990.

Easy Lavender Baby Powder
½ pound cornstarch
¼ teaspoon lavender essential oil

Fragrant Baby or Body Powder
2 ounces cornstarch
2 ounces arrowroot powder
1 Tbsp kaolin clay
10 drops tangerine essential oil
5 drops ylang-ylang essential oil
5 drops geranium essential oil
Place cornstarch in a large glass jar and add the essential oil drop by drop.
Tightly close the jar and shake it to distribute the oil, breaking up any clumps.
Let stand 4 days to distribute the essential oil.
Use with every diaper change, or as needed.
Potato starch or arrowroot powder can be used instead of cornstarch.

Spice or salt shakers with large holes in their lids make good baby powder containers.
Subscribe to my free e-newsletter or visit Oils For Wellness to learn more about healthy alternatives to chemical products and discover everyday uses for essential oils!

Be Well,

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  • ladyviral , February 25, 2010

    oh my! I never knew that talc is harmful.

  • Ann , February 25, 2010

    Pretty scary what's in baby products once you start to look into it all! There are a few all natural products that do as good (or better!!) at the job, and don't contain the bad 🙂

  • Momisodes , February 26, 2010

    I definitely knew about baby powder being harmful, but mainly from working as a nurse. I had no idea that it was used in so many other products though!
    That is frightening.

  • Helene , February 26, 2010

    Oh wow, I had NO idea!!!! Thank you for sharing this information!

  • OilGirl , February 27, 2010

    Thanks for your comments, so glad you found the article enlightening and helpful!
    Be well, Jennifer

  • Anonymous , November 18, 2011

    This article is absolutely ridiculous. I'm a research geologist and there is no factual basis for this article. If you look up the results from the studies cited these claims are completely unwarranted. The studies themselves state that there is little to no correlation between the incidence of cancer and the use of talc products. There is no more danger in using talc products as there is in drinking tap water.

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