Is There A Link Between Talc And Cancer?

Talcum powder – one of the very common household utilities that have adorned a lot of our shelves since generations have been constantly hitting headlines in the recent past, and not necessarily for the best reasons! Talcum powder is used extensively for several purposes, both on babies and adults for a long while now. Uses range from using on babies to prevent sweating and diaper rashes to cosmetic usages like skin whitening and make-up. The pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnsons take the credit of being one of the first makers of talcum powder with their first talc produced somewhere way back in the 1890s.

For a company that old, Johnson& Johnson has often been in the news for supposedly containing cancer-causing substances in their baby powder. With such a long history of producing and using talc, what is it that makes the usage of Johnson’s baby powder harmful?

Going back to Basics

Let us look at the basics first. Talcum powder is nothing but talc. But what exactly is talc? Talc is a clay mineral composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Talc in powdered form, often in combination with corn starch, is widely used as talcum powder. As a powder, it absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping in preventing rashes. It is thus widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders.

But that is not just it. Talc is used in a number of other industries, including paper making, plastic, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and ceramics. Talc rock is also used for stoves, sinks, electrical switchboards, etc. In other words, talc though used mainly in the cosmetic industry is also used for several other daily use items, as well.

Is talc dangerous?

Talc in pure form has nothing bad, is actually pretty healthy and does not cause any harm whatsoever. So why all the sudden news about Johnson’s baby powder and cancer? What actually makes talc unsafe? Well, in its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancer in and around the lungs when inhaled.

As per the American Cancer Society, most concerns with linking talcum powder to cancer can be focused on long term exposure to talc particles at work, such as talc miners who are exposed to asbestos for long amounts of time.

Which brings us to the next question – What is asbestos?

Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring mineral fibers found in rock. For decades, asbestos was used as a building material in homes and other buildings. While no longer widely used commercially, asbestos can still be found in old buildings, cement, flooring and ceiling materials.

Most people would be exposed to relatively lower levels of asbestos at some point in their lifetime. Asbestos generally doesn’t pose much risk on health except when exposed to it continuously for long amounts of time, like talc miners.

Does Johnson’s powder contain asbestos?

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an association that strictly runs tests on all talc and talcum powder products and certifies if the product is pure enough to be released.  Johnson’s baby powder has recently been in the news for allegedly being a risk for babies. But when talking about whether or not talcum powder is linked to cancer, it is important to distinguish between talc that contains asbestos and talc that is asbestos-free.

Johnson’s is an age-old company and is known to go through an elaborate process of testing their products extensively before releasing it to the consumer. The company has always been known to be on board with the FDA to have their products regularly tested, and come out clean each time.

Several cases have come up in the past in the US that links Johnson and Johnson baby powder with cancer. Recently, a similar case was detected in India as well where Johnson& Johnson baby was alleged to have released baby powder to the market that contained asbestos. The company was instructed to stop their talc manufacturing until thorough investigations were done.

The company cooperated and was very open with their process of making their products and the ingredients used. No correlation between their talc and cancer was proven. There have been a series of tests after which Johnson’s Baby powder has been deemed asbestos-free and safe to be used on babies.

Should I really be worried as a parent?

Two and two do not always have to make a four. A lot has been read and said in the news about Johnson baby powder containing asbestos, about causing cancer and being harmful to babies. But the company that has come a long way of over 125 years has always been known for its ethics and transparency.

Johnson’s is known to use standardized procedures, adhering to the strict guidelines and using quality ingredients, thus proving time and again to be completely safe for use. This should result in giving parents a sense of assurance in using a product that has built up so much trust among families that have been using their products since generations.