Growing up, talc was a staple in my house. My mum would always dust the powder on me and my sister after a bath. I don’t think we liked it much because when we became old enough to have baths on our own, we stopped using it.
But talc didn’t give up on me. It sneakily came back into my life a few years later, hiding in my makeup. Eyeshadows, blushes, powders… talc is often a key ingredient in them.
I never thought much of it until a few years ago rumours started going round that talc can give you pimples and cancer. I had to put my detective cap on and investigate. Here’s the truth about talc in cosmetics:
What the heck is talc and why is it in my cosmetics?
Talc is a soft mineral. It’s extracted from talc rocks and then processed to remove any traces of nasty and toxic substances that may be lurking in there.
In cosmetics, talc is quite the multitasker:
- It absorbs excess oil
- It helps makeup better adhere to the skin
- It gives cosmetics an opaque finish
- It prevents caking
Talc is more useful if you have oily skin, but anyone can use it.
Does talc cause cancer?
First things first: let’s address the rumour talc causes cancer. This white powder is accused of giving you two specific types of cancer: lung cancer and ovarian cancer.
Let’s start with lung cancer. In its natural form, talc can be contaminated with asbestos. As you probably know, asbestos IS carcinogenic when inhaled. It makes sense that when the two are used together, they could cause trouble.
This is indeed a concern if you work in industrial settings without all the proper precautions. Cosmetic-grade talc, the only type allow in skincare and makeup products, has been processed to remove every trace of asbestos. In other words, it’s safe.
On top of it, there are rules that prevent you from inhaling your cosmetics. According to cosmeticsinfo.org “to help prevent inhalation by consumers, talc used in loose powder products is milled to a relatively large, non-respirable particle size (>5 µm).”
For adults, talc in cosmetics is safe. But, there’s a small amount of research that suggests that if babies inhale too much talc powder, they could experience severe pulmonary complications. So either don’t use talc on babies or do it carefully: step away from your baby, powder your hands with it and dust the powder on your child. If your baby doesn’t inhale the powder, nothing bad will happen.
Now, let’s tackle the rumour that talc causes ovarian cancer. The rumours were raised by a 1992 study. The women who took part in the study applied talc to their perineal area after bathing or directly on their sanitary napkins or diaphragms.
They used different types of talc too: some women used only baby powder (a simple mixture of talc and fragrance), others deodorant powders (they can contain other minerals such as silica) and another group types of powders containing talc.
It was the deodorant powders that had the highest correlation (NOT causation) to ovarian cancer. This suggests one of the other ingredients in these products may be the culprit. If talc were to blame, why didn’t it cause problems for the other women as well?
The studies showed something else: “the greatest ovarian cancer risk associated with perineal talc use was observed in the subgroup of women estimated to have made more than 10,000 applications during years”, but yet “this exposure was found in only 14% of the women with ovarian cancer.”
At the moment, research simply doesn’t support the claims that talc gives you ovarian cancer.
If you’re really worried, don’t apply talc to your private parts. But it’s perfectly safe to use it everywhere else.
Is talc comedogenic?
What about pimples? Will talc make your face erupt in a war zone? It’d be ironic if this happened as talc is great at absorbing excess oil.
Luckily, since says you’ve got nothing to worry about. A 1984 study tested the comedogenicity of several ingredients and discovered that a mixture of talc, water and glycerin is less comedogenic than Isopropyl Palmitate, Myristyl Myristate (two ingredients I avoid like the plague because they never fail to break me out), Butyl Stearate, Decyl Oleate, Octyl Palmitate and Isopropyl Isostearate.
Now you know who to really blame!
The Bottom Line
I don’t care what scaremongers say, as of now there’s no proof talc causes cancer or pimples. If you’d rather err on the safe side, don’t use it on your private parts. But there’s no reason to banish it completely from your cosmetics bag.
Do you use talc? Share your experience in the comments below.