About Talcum Powder

Though the talc we mine today is mainly used as a filler in plastics and ceramics, it is arguably most commonly associated with talcum powder and baby powder. When talc is crushed down and included as an ingredient in these products, it can be very dangerous.

What Is Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is made up mostly of talc, a naturally occurring mineral that is typically retrieved from open-pit mines through blasting or drilling. In its raw state, talc is comprised of several elements, including silicon, magnesium and oxygen.

Believe it or not, talc is a multi-billion-dollar global industry. A core ingredient in baby powder, deodorants and cosmetic products, talc is a mineral that has been widely used for centuries due to its softness, natural absorption and anti-caking properties.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson®, have faced lawsuits for using talc in their baby powder. These lawsuits have been successful due to the growing body of research that shows prolonged talcum powder use may lead to cancer. Ovarian cancer, lung cancer and, more rarely, stomach and uterine cancer, have all been linked to talcum powder use.

Women who consistently use or have used talcum powder in their genital area are at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is a particularly aggressive form of cancer that has a lower survival rate, especially when it is not caught in its earliest stages.

What Is Talc?

Talc, the mineral that is the core ingredient in talcum powders, is naturally found in metamorphic rocks near convergent plate boundaries. Long-term natural processes, such as the heating of water that contains dissolved magnesium and silica, can cause reactions with nearby chemicals and rocks, which then create talc deposits. Most talc in the United States is found in or near mountain ranges.

The country’s biggest talc deposits are in the Appalachian Mountains and in rocky areas in western states such as:

  • California
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Idaho
  • Washington

Mining companies will excavate large open-pit mines and then drill, blast and crush rocks to access talc deposits. The crushed rock that contains talc is taken from the mining site to a mill where it is processed and ground down to a particle size. Processed talc can then be used in powders, plastics, paint, cosmetics, roofing or for other purposes.

Given the dozens of different industries that use talc, miners and processors can sell the mineral to pharmaceutical companies, cosmetics firms and paint and plastic manufacturers, among others.

The global talc industry is worth several billion dollars—a number that is only expected to grow over time.

Talcum Powder Risks

Researchers have found that consistent (often daily or weekly) use of talcum powder increases a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. Those most at-risk include women who apply talc-based products to their genital area for hygienic reasons.

In addition to ovarian cancer, women who use talcum powder are also at risk of developing uterine or stomach cancer. However, ovarian cancer is particularly dangerous because many symptoms are subtle or do not arise until the disease is in its advanced stages.

If ovarian cancer is detected within the earliest stages of the disease, the 5-year survival rate can be as high as 90%. Unfortunately, less than 20% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with the disease in its early stages.

Though there is still more research to do, many medical professionals now advise their patients to avoid talcum powders and to limit their use of talc given the potential health risks it poses.

Learn About the Risks of Talcum Powder

Talcum Powder and Cancer

Talcum powder can cause cancer of the ovaries, lungs, uterus and stomach, though not all of the talc’s health risks are known at this time.

Stray talc particles that enter into the body can cause an inflammatory reaction that encourages tumor growth and abnormal cell changes. This inflammation may start out as scarring or the thickening of tissue and then develop into tumors over time.

Talc-related cancers, such as ovarian and lung cancer, are often very aggressive. In some cases, ovarian cancer tumors can develop and spread within only weeks or months. For this reason, women who believe they may be suffering from symptoms of ovarian cancer should see a doctor and get a medical evaluation immediately.

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Feeling full without having eaten
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Irregular menstrual cycle bleeding

Women who suspect they may have ovarian cancer are often diagnosed through imaging tests such as MRIs or CT scans, or via a blood test, such as the CA 125 test. This test checks for elevated levels of the CA 125 protein in the blood. High levels of CA 125 can sometimes be an early indicator of ovarian cancer.

Learn About Talcum Powder & Ovarian Cancer

Talcum Powder in the 20th Century

Talc-based hygiene and cosmetic products have been produced by companies in the United States for over a century. Johnson & Johnson began producing its famous baby powder in the late 1800s, using talc as the powder’s core ingredient.

Historically, talc was mined in the Appalachian Mountains and in the rocky regions of the western United States. After mining, talc was sent to mills to be processed and developed into powders that were then sold to industrial companies and later to consumers.

Over the course of the 20th century, the use of talc expanded greatly from baby and talcum powder to plastics, rubbers, paints, pharmaceuticals and other industrial products.

Researchers began to associate talcum powder exposure with ovarian cancer in the 1970s. Scientists and medical professionals found that some women with ovarian cancer had formed tumors around talc particles that had migrated to the ovaries.

Talcum Powder Today

Although research dating back to the 1970s has linked talcum powder use with a higher risk of cancer, talc continues to be used in a wide range of products today.

Over the last few years, companies like Johnson & Johnson have faced a number of lawsuits from women who developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s baby powder. As a result, billions have been awarded to women and their families as compensation.

Still, many major companies to sell their talcum and baby powder without warnings or public notice, despite the growing body of proof that links talcum powder to cancer.

As of early 2019, Johnson & Johnson faces nearly 12,000 legal claims that blame baby powder for causing cancer.

Talc Is Not Safe. Take Legal Action Now.

Talc may have a long and extensive history of use in the United States, but its future does not have to mirror its past.

Health advocates, global health organizations and regulatory agencies around the world are catching on, as are consumers at large: Prolonged exposure to talc-based products can lead to ovarian cancer, lung cancer, uterine cancer or stomach cancer.

As is often the case, consumers trust that what they are buying off of store shelves is safe. In doing so, they are entrusting the product’s manufacturers with their lives. When that unspoken promise between buyer and seller has been violated, it is an unforgivable act—and one for which consumers should not stand.

Companies have a duty to warn the public if their products are linked with certain health risks, and they should know better than to jeopardize people’s lives in order to make a profit. Legal action can hold companies that act recklessly accountable for their actions.

Statutes of limitations vary from state to state, and the time a person has to file a claim may be limited. This makes it even more crucial to take legal action as soon as possible.

Do not hesitate. Our team of knowledgeable and experienced legal advocates is here to help you along every step of the way.

Author:Talcum Powder Cancer Guide Editorial Team
Talcum Powder Cancer Guide Editorial Team

Talcum Powder Cancer Guide helps people understand the risks of talcum powder, what was thought to be a harmless product. The site was inspired by a group of medical experts and lawyers who were concerned about the dangers of talcum powder after lawsuits linked it to cancer. Talcum Powder Cancer Guide’s editorial team uses up-to-date studies and reports to help readers make informed health and legal choices.

Last modified: January 30, 2019

View 5 References
  1. American Cancer Society. (2018, December 4). Talcum Powder and Cancer. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html

  2. Food and Drug Administration. (2018, August 21). Retrieved January 12, 2019, from https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm293184.htm

  3. Girion, L. (2018, December 14). J&J knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/

  4. Gurowitz, M. (2007, April 30). The Birth of Our Baby Products. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from https://www.kilmerhouse.com/2007/04/the-birth-of-our-baby-products

  5. King, H. (n.d.). Talc: The Softest Mineral. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from https://geology.com/minerals/talc.shtml