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The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

Does talcum powder cause cancer?

Talcum powder, also known as baby powder, has long been a medicine-cabinet staple, used to prevent irritation and absorb moisture, keeping both baby and adult skin dry and rash-free.

Even though companies have moved away from producing talcum-based powders in recent years, it’s not totally clear whether talcum powder causes cancer. In fact, studies looking into the connection between talc and ovarian cancer have shown mixed findings.

What is talc?

A naturally occurring mineral found in the earth, talc is known for its soft, silky texture and white color. It’s an ingredient in lots of everyday objects, including plastics, ceramics, paper and paint. It’s also used in cosmetics such as face powder and antiperspirant.

Talc is most famous as the main ingredient in talcum powder, commonly marketed as baby powder. While talc is still used in makeup and other items, you won’t see powders made from talc in many stores these days. Major manufacturers now make baby powder without talc in the United States.

Does talc cause ovarian cancer?

For years, there’s been a concern about talcum powder and other talc-based cosmetics and whether they cause cancer, especially when used in the genital area.

Many studies have investigated the link, but strong evidence that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer remains limited. The National Cancer Institute says the weight of existing evidence doesn’t support a link between talc and ovarian cancer.

While some studies have shown a small increase in the risk of ovarian cancer among women who used talcum powder on the outer part of their genitals, between the vagina and the anus (also known as the perineum), other studies show no evidence of increased risk using talcum powder in that area. Some studies that showed some small increased risk relied on women to remember their talcum powder usage from years earlier, a flaw experts refer to as recall bias.

Research into the connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer is ongoing.

Does talc cause other cancers?

According to the American Cancer Society, some studies have suggested that workers who mine or mill talc may be at increased risk of lung cancer, but other studies show no link. These workers are also likely to be exposed to other minerals and elements that are known to be carcinogenic, such as asbestos and radon, making it more difficult to assess how much of the risk is associated specifically with talc. The ACS states that additional research is needed into whether a connection exists between talcum powder and endometrial cancer for women who are past menopause.

Talc’s connection to cancer-causing asbestos

One source of concern about talcum powder and cancer is that talc is mined from areas where asbestos, a group of minerals found in rocks and soil, is sometimes also present. Asbestos is classified as a carcinogen, known to cause cancers such as mesothelioma (cancer in the tissue that lines the heart, lungs, stomach and other organs) and cancers of the lung, larynx and ovaries. Through the years, some laboratory studies have found trace amounts of asbestos in talcum powders. However, talcum powder manufacturers have long maintained that their products are asbestos-free.

The decline of talc

In recent years, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have brought lawsuits to Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers of talcum powder in the United States. While those companies maintain that there’s no connection between their talcum powders and cancer, in 2020 Johnson & Johnson removed the product from the U.S. market, selling cornstarch-based baby powder instead.

Johnson & Johnson still markets talc-based baby powder in other countries, and other companies still produce and sell talcum powders in the United States. Talc continues to be used in a variety of other cosmetic products such as makeup and deodorant. The Food and Drug Administration is monitoring the science around talc to better understand any risks to public health.

Should you avoid talcum powder?

Even though it’s called baby powder, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using any powder on babies, whether talcum-based or not, because inhaling the particles may injure their lungs. Parents may ask a pediatrician about safe alternatives to baby powder.

While the link between talcum powder and cancer isn’t 100 percent clear, many people may feel safer avoiding it. Anyone who wants to limit talc in their routines may consider a switch to talc-free brands of powders, cosmetics, deodorants and other products.