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Talcum Powder – Friend or foe?

Posted on March 16 2016

Talcum Powder – Friend or foe?

Made of talc, talcum powder — also known as magnesium silicate — is predominantly made of three elements: magnesium, silicon and oxygen. A product with absorbent characteristics and protective qualities, it aids in reducing the sensation of friction or chafing and is often used for the purpose of comfort and cleanliness.

The usage of talcum powder helps to minimise sweat production, and aids in preventing fungal infections. Commonly found in powder-based products for babies; in beauty items like lipsticks and eye shadow for adults; and in household deodorising products. Talcum powder is an ingredient most of us have been introduced to since birth and continue to use, knowingly or not, in one form or another, throughout our lives. Other possible uses include using talcum powder as a dry shampoo, to ease waxing pain, or even to cool bed sheets or to freshen up one's closet.

Talcum powder is a controversial ingredient most of us have been introduced to since birth and continue to use, knowingly or not, in one form or another, throughout our lives.

In its most natural form, some types of talcum powder contain asbestos; An odourless and tasteless substance made of fine, durable fibres, they are typically resistant to heat, fire and a host of many other chemicals. Found in many everyday products, asbetos is also used in building materials and fireproof clothing. More importantly, asbestos is a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled. Although talcum powders used in modern consumer products have been asbestos-free since the 1970s, there have been an increasing number of concerns raised between the possible link between talcum powder and cancer.

Found in many everyday products, talcum contains asbetos , a substance used also in building materials and fireproof clothing. 

 

Notably, a topic that has been fervently discussed is on whether women who apply talcum powder regularly near the genital area, have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Today, there are within the vicinity of 1000 lawsuits that have been filed against Johnson & Johnson, arguing that the talc in their products has led some women to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Another point ardently raised in these lawsuits is whether or not Johnson & Johnson should be responsible for warning users of this possible outcome.

The idea behind this, is that talcum powder applied to the genital area, through the use of sanitary napkins, diaphragms, condoms, or by other means, can lead to talc particles travelling through the genital track and depositing in the ovaries through the fallopian tubes, to possibly cause cancer.

Talcum powder applied to the genital area can possibly cause cancer.

This has led to studies that suggest this possible link between talc and ovarian cancer. Dating back to a British study conducted in 1971, some researchers reported that of 13 ovarian tumours they found, 10 of which had talc in them. Several studies proceeded to follow in the United States and in Europe, suggesting that women who use talc feminine hygiene products may have a 25% higher risk of contracting this cancer compared to women who did not use these products.

Contrastively, The American Cancer Society had considered the research and made no finding of it. Instead stating: 

"Many studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary. Findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase. Many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk. But these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier. Two prospective cohort studies, which would not have the same type of potential bias, have not found an increased risk." They American Cancer Society follow on to note that today, talcum powder is still widely used in many products, and urge consumers to determine if the increased risk is real.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classifies talc that contains asbestos to be "carcinogenic to humans.

Many studies have looked at this possible link with resulting findings mixed. Some studies report a slight increase in risk, while others have reported none. I feel it is important to note that these studies may be inevitably biased, as facts are obtained through the reliance of a person’s memory of talc use, over a period of many years.

Till today, research in this area still continues. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classifies talc that contains asbestos to be "carcinogenic to humans" but state that based on the lack of data from human studies as well as limited data in lab animal studies, the IARC classifies the genital use of talc-based body powder as "possibly carcinogenic" to humans.

At present, there is insufficient information to determine if consumer products containing talcum powder can increase one's risk of cancer with prolonged usage. However, to be safe, reduce or avoid the use of talcum based products. Instead, there are many safe and natural alternative cosmetic products on the market that one can use instead.

 

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