An infant is a delight to watch-his/her expressions, acts, sounds and movements bring utter joy to each of us present. These newborn kids are given an oil massage (to add glow to their skin, make the hands and feet strong and also to put them to sleep) and bathed using fragrant homemade powders that include turmeric and rose petals too. Soon after bath, they are generally sprayed with talcum powder all over their body to make them as fragrant as possible-this very sight is heavenly! Isn’t it common for a house to smell of talcum powder when there is a small infant?
Talcum powder is made from talc (one of the softest minerals in the world), a mineral that’s made of elements such as magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talcum powder is used in the preparation of a number of cosmetic products such as baby powder, adult body and facial powders and other cosmetic products too. It is valued for its capacity to absorb moisture, oils, odour and reduce friction protecting the baby against diaper rash and infections. It is a common sight for parents to spray a generous dose of powder on the baby’s genitals before putting on the diaper. But there have been times when some people also advice against spraying this powder on genital parts as there is an associated risk of cancer in using this powder.
Talc is a mineral that has to be mined for and it might contain asbestos as the mineral often occurs in close proximity to asbestos on the Earth’s surface. For the unknown, asbestos is a substance that’s known for its cancer-causing property and because talc is very close to this substance people fear and claim that talcum powder causes cancer too. Though everyone’s worried, most concerns about cancer risk is focused on individuals who have long-term exposure to talc such as talc miners and those women who apply talcum powder to their genital areas increasing their risk of ovarian cancer. There are other common risk factors of ovarian cancer the list of which can be found at www.firsteatright.com. There have been more than 5000 cases filed against talcum powder (also known as baby powder) based on research claims that have found that long-term use of talcum powder on female genitals might increase the risk of ovarian cancer. We also have lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson (this company started selling talcum powder as early as during 1800s) and other companies that sold talcum powders contaminated with asbestos blaming them for increased risk of cancer.
Evidence or Lack of Enough Evidence?
The issue first cropped up when researchers found talc particles in ovarian tumors in 1971. Yet another study in 1982 came up with a connection between ovarian cancer and talc powder use in genitals but a 2014 study disproved any of these links. Studies in 2016 and 2018 show that there is a weak but significant link between using talcum powder and ovarian cancer risk.
Different health committees have come up with their ideologies: the CDC says that prolonged inhalation of talc could cause carcinogenic effect on the lungs; FDA doesn’t conclude anything as research is still going on regarding the effect; the powder is banned from being used as an ingredient in beauty products by the European Union and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that talc-based powders are not carcinogenic generally but could be possibly carcinogenic when used on the genitals.
With conflicting evidences, it is better to refrain from using these powders until a clear judgement is given. Instead, people can use cornstarch, arrowroot starch, oat flour, baking soda or tapioca starch powders to prevent rashes and skin irritation. Though the current evidence is insufficient to provide judgement there are hopes that we could be getting results soon owing to the lawsuit on Johnson & Johnson. Until then if you are extremely concerned about it, adults and children alike are recommended to choose alternate powder options to serve their purpose.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.