Is The Prolonged Use Of Talcum Powder Really Dangerous?
Worried about the risks of Talcum powder? There is some evidence, although not overwhelming, that the use of Talcum powder could be risky.
What is Talcum Powder?
Talc is mined as a rock-like ore from the earth. This is then crushed into fine powder to produce talcum powder. Talc is mostly hydrated magnesium silicate with small amounts of other elements sometimes present.
Talcum powder is used for its moisture absorbing, soft, smooth, and perfume retaining properties. Talcum powder is widely used in cosmetics and baby powder. Talcum powder is also used for its lubricating properties and is seen as one of the first non-liquid lubricants to be used.
Potential Issues with Baby Powder
Because talcum powder is so fine it easily gets airborne and that is a risk. Applying talcum powder often results in a cloud of the powder being airborne around the application. It is considered by many experts as a potentially harmful product when breathed in. The potential risks should be carefully considered before using talcum powder over a long period. Breathing trouble, coughing, wheezing and shallow breathing has been reported after inhalation of talcum powder clouds by infants and children.
Many paediatricians caution against the use of talcum powder for babies and rather suggest using zinc-based creams or cornstarch-based alternatives. These are considered safer for use on infants and children.
Potential pulmonary issues include talcosis from inhalation of talcum powder. This was first seen in miners involved in the mining of talc, but there have been reported cases from users of talcum powder. Talcosis is a form of permanent inflammation of the lungs. This long-term exposure and inflammation could result in further medical issues.
Carcinogenic Properties of Talcum Powder
This one has not been fully proven, but there are fears and some studies that show that talcum powder can cause cancer. There have been larger studies that could not prove this link, but smaller studies have shown a weak link.
One thing that is sure from the literature is that talcum powder is often mined close to asbestos. Asbestos is a well-known and proven carcinogen directly linked to lung cancer. It is also clear that some time ago a lot of talcum powder contained traces of asbestos. This would be a concern as it might cause cancer.
There have also been court cases with damages awarded to the claimants against producers of talcum powder. In most of these cases, it was proven that the talcum powder contained asbestos. The asbestos was the attributing factor to the users developing cancer.
Most cosmetic and baby powder manufacturers do currently state that their talcum powder right now does not contain asbestos. This is a move in the right direction. Regulations and monitoring for traces of asbestos in talcum powder are not yet widely done. There is however a concern that talcum powder itself could be carcinogenic.
Even though the medical evidence is not conclusive some medical associations and governments have warned about these potential issues. The studies that have found a potential link have concluded it might have a role in lung and ovarian cancer. As such there have been warnings about inhaling talcum powder as well as using it to dust the genitals. Although the studies that found this link could be regarded as weak it might be safe to avoid any uses like these.
Although baby powder and other talcum-containing products are generally seen to be safe, it is a good idea to be aware of the potential risks. Further research is sorely needed in this field as only weak evidence linking potential issues to pure talcum powder could be found so far. Having peace of mind about the products we use daily is also important. Even a small risk is a potential worry, especially for new parents.
Until conclusive evidence is found either way it is a good idea not to breathe in any airborne talcum powder. It is also not a good idea especially for women to use talcum powder in the genital area. If talcum powder is to be used for any other external uses it is a good idea to buy a product from a reputable company that will make sure through lab testing that no asbestos is included in the talcum powder.
The good news is that many alternatives can be used for now until the research catches up with the concerns. Keep talcum powder away from genitals and use a cream alternative for babies and all will be well.