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Has Talc Been Linked To Cancer? A Scientific Breakdown

What Is Talc And Why Is It In OTC Medicine?

Dr. Regina Hardin Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Regina Hardin on September 24, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

Talc is a very common ingredient in a variety of household products, including baby powder and even some medicines. Talc has a few different uses, and because of this, it may be in more of the products you use on a daily basis than you realize.

Hearing that talc may be linked to cancer can be very concerning, especially if talc has been part of your regular routine for years. This is your complete guide to talc, its associated health risks, and whether or not you can safely continue to use products that contain talc.

What Are Talc and Talcum Powder?

Talc is essentially a mineral that comes in the form of an insoluble clay. Talc is found naturally in the environment and is mined and processed for products including baby powder, makeup, certain foods, and pharmaceuticals.

Talcum powder is basically another name for baby powder, and it is just talc in a powdered form. Talcum powder is a household staple for many families, and is often used for feminine hygiene purposes or for relieving diaper rash in children.

What Is Talc Used For?

Talc is commonly used as an additive to medicines and certain foods because it can act as an anti-caking agent, thus helping the product stay the ideal consistency and texture.

Talc is also commonly added to products like eyeshadows, blushes, and foundations in order to help them absorb moisture as well as provide a soft and silky texture that allows the product to be spread more easily. Deodorants, dry shampoos, and other personal care products also often contain talc for these reasons.

Talc in Medicine

Talc can essentially be used as an anti-clumping agent, which is why it makes such a good addition to medicines in order to achieve and maintain a certain consistency.

Health Risks Associated With Talc

While talc itself is not inherently harmful, talc can sometimes be found alongside the mineral asbestos, which poses many health risks. When mining sites are not properly tested and monitored, there is a chance that the talc will end up being contaminated with asbestos, and this is where the main health concerns pertaining to talc stem from.

Is Talc Linked To Cancer?

In cases where talc is contaminated with asbestos, it may be linked to cancer due to the health risks posed by asbestos when inhaled. When talc has not been contaminated, though, these risks may not be as severe.

That said, it is unclear whether or not talc and talcum powder, even if it is asbestos-free, has been linked to cancer and specifically ovarian cancer. Research so far has shown mixed results regarding this link, with some studies showing an elevated risk of ovarian cancer upon using talcum powder while other studies have shown no connection.

That said, because studies have been inconclusive, talc has been deemed possibly carcinogenic to humans specifically when used on the perineum, and more research is needed to come to a more concrete conclusion.

Because of these potential risks, it is not recommended to use talcum powder or other dusting powders on infants, because infants have a higher risk of inhaling these powders and experiencing adverse effects.

If I Choose To Use Talcum Powder, What Are The Risks?

All of this being said, you can stay safe by abiding by the following guidelines pertaining to talc:

  • Talc that contains asbestos has been classified as carcinogenic to humans, and thus should be avoided
  • Inhaled talc that does not contain asbestos has been deemed unclassifiable in regards to carcinogenicity, meaning that whether or not it is carcinogenic is unknown due to a lack of human trials
  • Perineal use of any form of talc has been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans, so its use should be avoided in this area

Is OTC Medicine Safe If It Contains Talc?

Because many of the risks associated with talc are not set in stone, you should proceed with caution and assess the risk according to your individual circumstances.

That said, products containing asbestos-free talc have generally been deemed safe, and it is simply a matter of making sure that you use any medicines containing talc according to the proper usage instructions.

As long as you follow the instructions, there should generally be no significant risks posed to you or your health.

Proper dosing is extremely important for any kind of medicine regardless of its ingredients, and misusing medicines in any situation is likely to cause adverse effects or pose certain health risks. Thus, you should already be in the habit of taking care when it comes to using different medications.

If you are ever unsure of the proper dosages for any given medication, you should consult your doctor and get a professional opinion. It is always best to play it safe and have your questions answered by a medical professional rather than trying to figure it out on your own and facing potentially serious health-related consequences.

Food-grade talc found in products like chewing gum have been recognized as safe by the FDA, meaning that these products, too, likely do not pose any significant health risks when consumed.

When it comes to using medicines that contain talc, it is important to make sure that they are certified as using asbestos-free talc.

How To Ensure That Your Products Are Safe

If you generally use products containing talc on a regular basis and you are having trouble figuring out whether or not these products are posing risks to your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your family, you should consult your doctor for more information.

Your doctor is always a resource for you and they will be able to answer any questions you may have about the safety of your daily products. They will also be able to further explain any potential health risks, and they can help steer you in the right direction if a product change is necessary.

Most of the health risks associated with talc stem from talcum powder or baby powders that are talc-based, so ingestible products like medicines that have talc as an added ingredient may not pose any health risks and you might have nothing to worry about. Regardless, when in doubt, consult your doctor and have your doubts put to rest.

If you would rather not risk using products with talc, switching to clean medicine products may help lower your risk of ingesting talc and experiencing adverse effects. Looking for talc-free medicines in your local pharmacy can be an easy way to start switching out the products you regularly use.

Medicines with clean ingredients are generally also free of other additives commonly known to cause adverse effects, so you may be doing yourself a favor by opting for products with fewer ingredients. Your peace of mind is important, and if switching out your products will ease some of your concerns, it may be worth it.

If you want to switch to cleaner products but are not sure where to start, your doctor may be able to give you some recommendations depending on what exactly you are looking for. Keep in mind that the term clean medicine may be acted upon differently by different brands, and the only surefire way to make sure a product does not contain a certain ingredient is to carefully read the ingredients list before using a new product.

The Bottom Line

In recent years, the health risks associated with talc have increased and raised some red flags. Talcum powder specifically may be linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer when used on the genitals, and talc that has been contaminated with asbestos poses a risk of cancer when inhaled.

Talc is often found alongside asbestos in nature, which is why it can be very easy for the talc to get contaminated if mines are not tested properly before the talc is collected.

Looking for products with talc that is marked asbestos-free is a good way to avoid potential health risks, and products with asbestos-free talc are generally accepted as safe as long as they are used properly.

Generally speaking, the risks associated with talc may only be relevant when talc is inhaled or applied to the genitals, and medicines or food products containing talc that gets ingested may not pose any health risks at all.

Whenever you have questions or doubts about a certain medicine, it is important to consult your doctor and get a professional opinion.