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Does Talcum Powder Cause Cancer?

For many women, applying powder to your socks and underwear in the morning can help prevent chafing and absorb moisture to maintain freshness. But recent concerns over the safety of talcum powder and a possible link to ovarian cancer may leave you wondering if talcum powder is safe. 

Talcum powder is an odor and moisture-absorbing product made from a mineral called talc that is used to help prevent rashes and keep skin dry. It has long been a staple in feminine hygiene products. According to the American Cancer Society, some forms of the natural talc mineral contain asbestos, a known cancer-causing carcinogen. However, talcum powder created from this mineral has been purified to remove the asbestos since the 1970s.

New concerns about asbestos-free talc are tied to emerging research that may link talcum powder to ovarian cancer in women who use the product on their genitals. The worry has been heightened by a series of lawsuits against talcum powder manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.

"There is no clear evidence that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer,” said Wei Bai, MD, with Samaritan Cancer Program. “There are several studies that have looked at the issue but the results are inconsistent. The media reports may look scary but the truth is we just don’t know.”

The American Cancer Society states that there is “very little evidence” of a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The National Institutes of Health also states the evidence does not provide a clear link.

Although the science may be mixed on talcum powder, you can still use powder without using talc. Many companies offer talc-free powders that use cornstarch to create the same dry feeling.  

"If you’re worried about the effects of using talcum powder, you can stop using it and talk to your doctor,” said Dr. Bai. “But overall, it’s important to remember the other things you can do that we know minimize the risk of cancer — maintain a healthy weight, eat right, exercise and visit your doctor for recommended health screenings."

Learn more about taking care of your skin and how skin changes as we age.

Connect with Women’s Health Services at Samaritan Health Services.