When I was little there was always a bottle of talc in our bathroom. My mother would use it on me and my sister after a bath. Then, gradually she stopped. I’m not sure why, I guess she didn’t feel the need to use it anymore. But talc got back into my life a few years later, when I started using makeup. A lot of cosmetic products contain talc, and I never thought much about it until, a few years ago, rumours started circulating about it causing breakouts and even cancer. Is this true or is it just another unfounded rumour?
What is talc and why is it in my cosmetics?
Talc is a soft mineral that’s derived from the mining of talc rocks, which are then, for cosmetic use, processed so as to remove any amount of dangerous trace materials they may contain. Talc is very used in cosmetics, in particular in mineral makeup and products designed for oily skin, because of its ability to help control shine, improve their adhesion to the skin, make them look opaque and prevent caking.
Does talc cause cancer?
Talc is often accused of causing two types of cancer: lung cancer and ovarian cancer. Let’s start with the first. Talc is closely related to asbestos, which is carcinogenic when inhaled, and can be contaminated with it. While this sounds scary, this type of talc is used in industrial settings with all the proper precautions. Cosmetic-grade talc, the type used in skincare and makeup products, is instead asbestos-free, and thus safe.
Besides, in the USA, according to cosmeticsinfo.org “to help prevent inhalation by consumers, talc used in loose powder products is milled to a relatively large, non-respirable particle size (>5 µm).” There is, however, a small amount of research that suggests that if babies inhale too much talc powder, they could experience severe pulmonary complications. So, if you’re gonna apply talc (or any other powder, for that matter) on your baby, step a few feet away, powder your hands with it, and then apply it on him/her.
The concerns about talc causing ovarian cancer were instead raised by a 1992 study. The women in the study either applied talc to their perineal area after bathing, or directly on their sanitary napkins or diaphragms. Different types of talk were used too: some women used only baby powder (which is a simple mixture of talc and fragrance), others deodorant powers (which can contain other minerals such as silica) and another group applied instead other types of powders containing talc. It was the deodorant powders that had the highest correlation to ovarian cancer, which suggests that one of the other ingredients in the products may be the culprit.
Also, “the greatest ovarian cancer risk associated with perineal talc use was observed in the subgroup of women estimated to have made more than 10,000 applications during years”, but yet “this exposure was found in only 14% of the women with ovarian cancer.” The scientists concluded that these findings are inconclusive and more research needs to be done on the topic. In addition, another study has discovered that when talc is injected in the ovaries of rats, cancer does not develop. But if you’re still worried, then simply stop using talc on your private parts.
Is talc comedogenic?
Talc is often used in products for oily skin for its ability to absorb excess oil, yet some people avoid it because they are worried it may cause their skin to breakout. But this isn’t true either. A 1984 study has examined the comedogenicity of several ingredients and has discovered that a mixture of talc, water and glycerin is less comedogenic than Isopropyl Palmitate, Myristyl Myristate (two ingredients I avoid like the plague because they never fail to make my skin break out), Butyl Stearate, Decyl Oleate, Octyl Palmitate and Isopropyl Isostearate.
The Bottom Line
There is no credible evidence of talc causing cancer in humans, and it seems it isn’t very likely to cause breakouts either. If you still have concerns, simply avoid using talc on your private parts and, when using it on infants, powder your hands away from them so as to prevent them from inhaling it. But there is no reason to avoid talc altogether and thus miss out on the many cosmetic benefits it provides.
Do you use talc?