Talcum Powder: The Hidden Dangers

You’ve probably used it, or had it sprinkled on you at some time in your life. It’s processed from a soft mineral compound of magnesium silicate, and is called talcum powder or just talc.

Talcum dusting powder is commonly used to reduce rashes and diaper irritation in babies and infants. But this practice is dangerous. It can result in the inhalation of significant amounts of powder, causing acute or chronic lung irritation, known as talcosis. However, this risk is readily avoidable as cornstarch powder is a safe and reliable alternative.

Manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, and widely distributed by Osco and Walgreens, besides other drug stores, women have been persuaded by advertisements to dust themselves with talcum powder to mask alleged genital odors. Not surprisingly, the powder has become a symbol of freshness and cleanliness for over five decades.

Warning on harmful effects of talc:

The first warning of the dangers of genital talc came in a 1971 report on the identification of talc particles in ovarian cancers, a finding sharply contested by Dr. G.Y. Hildick-Smith, Johnson & Johnson’s medical director. However, a subsequent publication in the prestigious The Lancet warned that “The potentially harmful effects of talc . . . in the ovary . . . should not be ignored.”

This warning was confirmed in a 1992 publication in Obstetrics & Gynecology which reported that a woman’s frequent talc use on her genitals increased her risk of ovarian cancer by threefold. The talc in question was simple brand or generic ‘baby powder.’

Subsequent to the 1992 report, at least a dozen other major science articles documenting the link between talc and ovarian cancer appeared in leading medical journals such as Cancer, The Lancet, and Oncology. The capstone of this research case against talc came in 2003 when the journal Anticancer Research published a ‘meta-analysis,’ or large scale review, of 16 previous published studies involving 11,933 women; a 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer was confirmed.

Not surprisingly, the mortality of ovarian cancer in women 65 years of age and older has escalated sharply, especially in black women who have a higher rate of talc use than other races.
Nearly 16,000 women in the U.S. die from ovarian cancer each year, which means it is the fourth most common fatal cancer in women. By some estimates, one out of five women regularly applies talc to her genitals. This usage occurs either through direct application, or as a result of tampons, sanitary pads and diaphragms that have been dusted with talc.

Awareness of the danger:

More acknowledgment of talc’s dangers emerged even from the cosmetics industry. The president of the industry’s Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, Edward Kavanaugh, conceded in 2002 that talc is toxic and “can reach the human ovaries.” Yet, inexplicably, talc manufacturers failed to warn women that the product could be dangerous to their health.

Nor has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even shown casual concern about the dangers of talc. The closest admission to this effect came in 1993 when the Acting Associate Commissioner for Legislative Affairs of the Department of Health and Human Services admitted “we are aware that there have been reports in the medical literature between frequent female perineal talc dusting over a protracted period of years, and an incremental increase in the statistical odds of subsequent development of certain ovarian cancers.” Then, amazingly, this official went on to say that the FDA “is not considering to ban, restrict or require a warning statement on the label of talc containing products.”

Aware of talc’s extreme dangers and alarmed by continued governmental unresponsiveness, in 1994 the Cancer Prevention Coalition, supported by the New York Center for Constitutional Rights, submitted a Citizen’s Petition to the FDA. This requested that talc genital dusting powder be labeled with an explicit warning of the major risks of ovarian cancer. However, the FDA again denied this petition.

In May 2008, the Cancer Prevention Coalition submitted another Citizen’s Petition to the FDA. This was endorsed by a range of groups including the Organic Consumers Association, the International Association for Humanitarian Medicine, and Dr. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women. We cited new scientific evidence on the dangers of talc, and requested the FDA to mandate that all talc products be labeled with this type of warning: “Frequent application of talcum powder in the female genital area substantially increases the risk of ovarian cancer.” However, Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., then Commissioner of the FDA, failed to respond to this petition.

It is anticipated that Margaret Hamburg, M.D., the highly respected new FDA Commissioner, will take prompt regulatory action to protect unsuspecting women from the extreme dangers of talc.

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  • Marion Brandt

    I have been aware of various reports over the years about the dangers of talc. As a black woman, I have early memories of being sprinkled with it after a bath as a young child. Also, my mother used it liberally – it was associated with feeling and smelling 'fresh and clean'.

    Like deodourant, which has had many a scare story attached to it over the years, one fears as a consumer,that something is not quite right and that big business has too much to lose if it were banned.

    I live in the UK and will be asking some questions of the major phramacies about talc, for the sake of my health, my daughter's health and the same for all my friends and family.

  • Christine

    Thanks for this article. I had heard talk about the dangers, in coversation…but the studies presented here have put the issue to rest for me. No more talcum powder

  • Diane

    I suppose that using talc as a deodorant is just as dangerous, right? I don't own a single container of the stuff, but I knoe someone who uses talc in place of deodorant.

  • Angela Willis

    Why am I just finding this out?

  • Aolenek

    I had absolutely no idea, and I consider myself to be pretty health concious. I will tell both of my daughter immediatly in the hopes that they will not ever consider this as a solution for genital odors or chafing.

  • Helen

    I have no idea.  As a reflexologist I use talcum powder with every client to dry their feet prior to giving him/her a reflexology session. The skin around my eyes and eyebrows have become very sensitive lately, dry and itchy.  Be aware.  I researched a good substitute is a combination of arrowroot powder and Kaolin white clay.  

  • Balu

    i eat baby powder, in fact i’m addicted to it and i need help!!

  • dayyum!

  • Jessica

    I had no idea talc was harmful! Definitely not going to buy regular baby powder for my kiddos ever again.

    Primal Pit Paste is a great company making deodorants and also body powders free from the harmful ingredients found in modern formulas. Check them out!

  • Patricia

    Yes, I have known for years…keep on telling people…here in Thailand people uses it a lot…people do not really beleive me…feel sorry for the children and all the people

  • Rekhesh Jain

    @JohnsonsBabyInd Babies has to be grown naturally or dress by soft mineral compound of magnesium silicate or TALC ? https://www.bewell.com/blog/talcum-powder-the-hidden-dangers/… #NaMo
    You are doing honorable work, because of you community of planet being educated. Thank you very, because of your authentic research, Because of this, I have got moral support and confidence to say some thing bold constructive. I could able to voice and able to reach. Regards

  • Rekhesh Jain

    @Johnsons BabyInd Babies has to be grown naturally or dress by soft mineral compound of magnesium silicate or TALC ? https://www.bewell.com/blog/t… #NaMo
    are doing honorable work, because of you community of planet being
    educated. Thank you very, because of your authentic research, Because of
    this, I have got moral support and confidence to say some thing bold
    constructive. I could able to voice and able to reach. Regards

  • Susan Greifer

    I had a black friend warn me decades ago about the dangerous of women using talc between their legs. I have switched to corn starch; but there are reports that bacteria breeds in corn starch, but I have had no problems and it works the same as talc.

  • Mae

    I also eat baby powder and I’m addicted to it…I didn’t know it was harmful.

  • Concerned Human

    Sorry but no one should be taking advice from a reflexologist…necropost FTW

  • Don

    Well the talcum power may be introduced into women by men that are generous users of talcum power. Many men use talcum power on their genital area.

  • Guest

    Corn Starch powders are just as Bad…they cause FUNGUS!

  • Guest

    Cornstarch is Just as BAD it causes FUNGUS!

  • Guest

    Cornstarch causes FUNGUS!

  • Angel Sneha

    I eat talcum powder….is it harmful??how can i protect myself now??

  • daionna

    i eat baby powder im only 13 and i smoke cigarettes im really trying to stop but they are both so addictive

  • Livingmylife Likeits Golden

    I have had this problem since as young as,I can remember, it has always comforted me a make it hard for me to stop at 13 my main worry is that you smoke , I have a 14 year old that is not a habit I would wish upon anyone. . As for the baby powder yes it is definitely an addiction, AND IT CAN ALSO Be A Medical Issue I am severely anemic when I start craving real bad I know my Iron to low. Ask your parents to take you for a check up to see if you have a iron deficiency or vitamin D deficiency

  • Juan Carlos

    There is a tad bit of alarmism in this article. I was recommended to try using talc to help with humidity and general stickiness, but started to hear all sorts of warnings so I actually did some research. You can find some fairly good info from the American Cancer Society, and they have a great list of peer-reviewed journals and studies that are a little more honest than this article.

    If you actually look at an aggregate of all the studies done, the lab based studies have been inconclusive, while the long term use studies in people are either flawed by people not being able to remember accurate usage from years ago or also inconclusive. The DHHS quote used in the article neglects to mention that the average woman has roughly a 2-3% chance of developing the type of ovarian cancer that can develop with talc. The studies have found at most, talc increases that risk by 30%, so it goes from 3% to 3.9%.


    A large amount of the hype and fear comes from the fact that talc used to contain asbestos. However that hasn’t been the case for decades.

    Bottom line is, do your research. With all due respect to Drs Epstein and Lipman as I’m sure they have good intentions, they do have an agenda in writing this article with the tone that they chose. Always remember to look at the source material, which he neglected include links too, before making a snap judgement, especially regarding your health.

  • Betts

    My grama taught me to put Johnsons baby powder on my sanitary napkins. I had ovarian cancer at 15 and a ovary and a half was removed. At 25 I got Ovarian cancer in the half of ovary and had a complete hysterectomy. My grama died from Ovarian Cancer at 75 and my mom died 3 years ago of Ovarian Cancer. . We didn’t know better. God took care of me.

  • Atir AO Balagun

    Man, I’m severely allergic to Talcum powder. I had a coworker that would drench himself in it all summer long. Told him I was allergic. It strikes as a sharp headache, then goes away. Then my head and face will look like a Moon rock. My sister whom I am older by 20 years, was allergic to it as a baby. Genetics?, guess not. Its poison

  • Nyesha

    Yes that’s what it is. I’ve been eating powder going on five years. Same brand, Johnson and Johnson. It’s due to an eating disorder called Pica, which is low Iron.

  • M A

    A supplement of minerals AND Trace minerals combined could help reduce the physical/nutritional part of craving this powder.
    I had a condition my entire childhood. As an adult into natural health I found out I was just low on minerals/trace minerals. To know this b4, would’ve made 16 yrs of life much easier.
    Good Luck!

  • MissCocoaSwiss .

    Yep I started on baby powder probably around 7 or 8; I think mostly black girls this issue… I never heard of the cancer bit though.

  • bb

    I can take one breathe in of talc powder and I quit breathing. Why?

  • so13

    Those with talc and those types of cravings should have their iron counts checked. It is definitely linked to anemia. Chances are good that those in this category also eat lots of ice. Not only am I a long time healthcare professional, this was an issue with me in my 2nd and 3rd pregnancies when I was anemic. I had the need to keep my throat dry, was threatened with transfusions, and I knew that would potentially harm my unborn children, and put me at an increased risk to bleed out during delivery. I got it under control with supplements under medical supervision, and haven’t had the cravings since.

  • neesy

    is this true? i’m addicted to eating powder and rice. i know they’re both harmful but i cant seem to stop. i thought i was just weird, didnt know it could be a health problem

  • mimi

    i been eating baby powder like crazy.i did not know this.and i am diabetic too lord help me

  • JJ

    My mother and my sister used talc after bathing all of there adult lives and I used it instead of antiperspirant deodorant for a short time. My sister had this chronic, very loud, booming cough, and everytime she came to the house we all knew she was there. I had developed The same cough as my sister soon after using talc as a deodorant. Then I stopped using talc because it was getting everywere while I was applying it and soon after my cough went away. Our mother passed away after her lungs hardened up, she basiclly suffocated to death (pulmonary fibrosis? Right diagnosis??). After our mother passed away I cleaned her bathroom and noticed large amounts of what I thought at the time was dust covering everything the bathroom walls, toilet, cabinets, vanity, sink, it was everywhere. After spending some time with my sister at her house I noticed the same dust in her bathroom and thought wow you do not dust just like mom did not. Then one day I realized that the dust in my sister’s bathroom was not dust but talc because my sister used talc after bathing just like mom had always done. The bottles of talc were always in our bathrooms just never thought anything of it. I told my sister she should try and to stop using talc. She soon did stop using talc and guess what? My sister’s cough stopped! Unbelievable ! Warning do not use talc in confined spaces its so simple. RIP

  • Idio

    Baby powder, consisting mainly of talc powder, is insoluble and, if inhaled in large amounts, dries the tracheobronchial mucous membrane ( i.e. the airway passages protective membrane) and prevents normal ciliary function.The small air passages then fill with retained mucus.
    Progressive diffuse pulmonary fibrosis as a sequel to massive aspiration of baby powder (talc) is documented. The diagnosis should be considered in “idiopathic” pulmonary fibrosis in childhood and adult life.
    Inhalation of talc can produce fever, hypoxia,dyspnea and “micro-nodular” interstitial lung disease.
    Treatment with corticosteroids improves symptoms, chest radiographs and oxygenation.

  • Listening2all

    You might be lacking magnesium? just a thought. Google how good magnesium is for our bodies and how lacking we all are. All the best and I would suggest buying the powdered magnesium for better absorption and quicker benefits rather than tablets.

  • lola

    A lot of people are, you are not the only one, but this can kill you! You have to stop right now, today not tomorrow.

  • lola

    It is VERY harmful. It can and will kill you if you do not stop today!

  • jill

    K use loads baby power aster bath or shower twice a day that harmful. As well don’t eat it though …

  • destinythompson

    yeah I’m addicted to baby powder also the shower to shower kind I’ve been eating it for a couple years know and can’t stop oh and i also love cornstarch well i mix them up and eat it and know that I’ve been eating cornstarch i can’t stop

  • shame

    How does it effect and/or kill you????

  • Kristin

    I just came back from the hospital because of a partially collapsed lung from a blockage. Its believed it could be from talcum inhalation during eating it. I’ve been eating it for about 2 years.

  • Greta

    Arrow root is cornstarch. Kaolin white clay

  • Jessie

    What is baby actidently swallows talc can it be harmfull

  • Elizabeth Pergeau

    What I want to know is that this product has been around for over 50years what has it done to the female babies from those decades on out till1971 when they realized it was toxic to females and their genitals what about us women who have had unexplained hysterectomy at an early age mine was 23 for cervical cancer and I was born in1976 so enlighten me

  • For some reason, I seem to have a skin allergy to talcum powder. I spilled some on my bed sheet one night but did not think anything of it and slept on it all night on my left side. When I awoke the next morning the skin on my left thigh, which was in contact under mild pressure with the spilled talc all night, had a strange, numb and tingley sensation that stayed with me all day. I don’t think that talcum powder is quite as inert as they claim it to be and that it does indeed have some biological reaction. This stuff should be used with caution or not at all.

  • smartypants

    What about hairstylists and barbers who used a talcum product hour after hour, day after day for their entire careers to dust loose hairs off their client’s necks? I used talcum for over 30 years and now am concerned as to how much risk I was exposing myself (and my clients) to.

  • Bobbi Mccoy

    I know a person that has thyroid disease but my question is her husband is obsessed with baby powder .could that effect her thyroid at all

  • Eberwill

    I agree! I craved it for years…started eating (equate Walmart brand) at about age 6. It wasn’t until I learned AND understood anemia that I began to take iron and it helped with the cravings a lot. I do still have the urge to eat it once in a while, but really only when I smell it…but I am blessed to say that I can now fight the urges.

  • Amoli Sharma

    Thanks for sharing. http://www.anandtalc.com/