Talcum Powder and Cancer: Separating the Science From The Fury

Talcum Powder Cancer scare | Health and Wellness | Maple and Marigold
Talcum Powder Cancer scare | Health and Wellness | Maple and Marigold

I grew up in a country with a warm and humid climate where people look for every opportunity to cool off. Whether it means diving into the cool waters of a canal, sitting under a ceiling fan or a sprinkle of talcum powder, staying cool was important to survive the day. Recently I realised this last practice may have given me a higher possibility of getting ovarian cancer. In case you have missed the news – Talcum powder may cause cancer.


This article is in response to the recent lawsuits ordering Johnson & Johnson to pay hundreds of millions of Dollars to the families of women who have who died of Ovarian Cancer in the United States, and the subsequent response from furious customers. There are a number of US and Canada lawsuits pending against the company.

Edited to add on Dec 5th: Health Canada has warned consumers to avoid inhaling talcum powder or using the product on female genitals, as exposure may cause potentially serious respiratory effects and possibly ovarian cancer.


Smoking, drinking and having unprotected sex has long been considered risky behaviour but at no time have I even thought that sprinkling talcum powder in my nether regions would fall in the same category. Research today says otherwise. 

Dr. Steven Narod with the Women’s College Research Institute has said that for many years it’s been known that talcum powder is linked to ovarian cancer. Narod is a world leader in the field of breast and ovarian cancer genetics. “This link has progressively become stronger over time,” Narod told Global News. According to him, women who use talc routinely will face a “slight increase” in their chances of developing ovarian cancer.

What the hell does that mean for a person {like me} who for decades “routinely” used talcum powder?

Generations of women around the world have used talcum powder as a part of their personal hygiene routine. What is even more frightening to me is that this practice has been passed onto our children.  A sprinkle in the diaper, puff puff.  and as fresh as a baby’s bottom. Isn’t that what all the ads imply?

Not only am I concerned about my future health I am even more horrified about what I may have exposed my kids to. Baby powder is a staple in millions of homes around the world. If you see a diaper changing table you will likely spot a bottle of baby powder as well! It was baby powder, after all!

Edited to add on Dec 5: The Canadian Paediatric Society also advises against the use of talcum powder that many parents have used to prevent diaper rash in infants.

People are out for blood and we’re blaming the manufacturing companies for misleading the public, that there should have been a warning label on the bottle. I’m not sure if the warning would have done the work. Have you read the warning on your box of cotton swabs recently? My Q-tips box has a very specific warning to NEVER use the cotton swab in the ear. Guess what most people use a cotton swab for?

 

Talcum Powder Cancer scare | Health and Wellness | Maple and Marigold

I’m a fan of transparency and making educated decisions. As it turns out, more than 280 agents on the list of ingredients for talcum powder have been recognized as possible carcinogens. The phrase “possible carcinogens” seems a little ambiguous though since aloe vera falls in the same category.

As I read through the research, I’m discovering that the information around the carcinogenic effects of talcum powder is still pending. Health Canada though has presented it’s warning and while the back and forth continues between the scientists and everybody else, I am going to follow Paul Demers advice. 

“If you’re concerned overall about talcum powder, then there are enough things to worry about in life. I would simply not use it.”

Not for me and definitely not for my kids!

Have you used talcum powder for yourself or your children? I would love to hear from you. Comment below or on Facebook. 

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma<br/><small>Photo by Tanvi Madkaiker</small>
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma
Photo by Tanvi Madkaiker

About Puneeta

Author, Educator, Speaker

Puneeta is a writer, food advocate and guide for those who seek earth-friendly, delicious solutions that work for real life.

21 Comments

    • In the world today, it is up to the consumer to be vigilant. Our health, our responsibility is what I’ve realised.

      Reply
  • Iam really not surprised with this news. When my son was a month old, i had purchase J&J body lotion and tried it on myself first. My skin broke into multiple boils. I threw out all the J&J products away and started using Himalaya….

    Reply
  • As a health advocate, I have done a lot of research. The one thing everyone should keep in mind is this:

    Science may not conclusively prove a certain product or ingredient can cause harm.

    With this mindset, USE THE PRODUCTS!

    My point of view has always been, prove the product or ingredient is safe. This is nearly impossible because the money that funds researches were mostly from companies. You see where I am going with this?

    Reply
    • Not sure if I understood your comment correctly, Robert. I agree a lot of research especially in NA seems to be funded through private sources. At the same time, I’d rather not experiment on my kids…..if possible 🙂 I like transparency and as a consumer an a parent I like to know when there is ambiguity around a certain product so I can make my own decisions.

      Reply
    • Scientists aren’t saying talcum powder causes cancer. Proving anything so direct as that needs a lot more research. Hopefully that is happenning now.

      Reply
  • I have never been a user of talcum powder, as I take the approach of proper care to prevent rash. If you change a baby’s dipper on time, many of the issues can be mitigated.

    Reply
    • Diaper changing on time is one factor but there are many other issues as well that may cause rashes. Some people’s skin is prone to rashes even with the slightest bit of friction.

      Reply
  • If it would be to trust all these scientist, we wouldn’t eat or drink anything and we wouldn’t use any products. I remember a recent study saying that all meat is a cancer factor risk. Until then, meat used to be healthy. In a few months it will be healthy again. Talk powder has been used for decades for babies, my mom used it on me, and her mother used it on her. It’s the most common product for babies. If it would really be a cancer rick factor, wouldn’t all of us be dead by now?

    Reply
    • That is true, Swayam. Research is done and funding allocated only when people raise their voices.

      Reply
  • I guess we should just limit the usage and apply it to the safer or tolerant areas of our skin. I have heard about talcum powder being unsafe, but only a few have exposed themselves as victims of its ingredients. I am not a John & Johnson user because I perspire like a man doing lots of activities every freaking day. It makes me feel like the more I use it the more it seemed rather dabbing dust on my skin.

    Reply
    • I am looking into using cornstarch for my skin, the texture isn’t the same but hell at least it won’t give me cancer….maybe!

      Reply
  • I love that you have writed about this. In fact, I have to say, I always had talcum powder in my house – but not for the same use as you probably do. Instead, we use it on lather gloves, because it makes it smell free. Also on shoes, for example. The only time I’ve used talcum powder on me (on my hands), I’ve suffered from a big allergie and swear that would never try it again. There are more things to worry about than talcum powder, it easier to simply not use it, as you said.

    Reply
    • I thought about it for a few days and then sat down to write mainly because I feel people still don’t know that talcum powder is on the list of “possible carcinogens” I agree we worry about it and we should’t use it…..but we need to know that there is something to worry about!

      Reply
  • I am an oncology nurse and talc is part of the possible carcinogens listed in the IARC monograph. According to some studies, talcum powder when applied in the genitals would travel inside going to the ovaries and stay there for a very long time. Prolonged and frequent exposure of ovarian cells in talc would cause cellular changes and can develop cancer. Further studies are needed to conclude this issue. For now, prevention is best to prevent cancer 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree prevention is the way to go while the scientists figure their stuff out!

      Reply

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