Q: Is it safe to use talcum powder after a shower?
A: The evidence is unclear. Talc, made from soapstone and composed primarily of magnesium silicate, is a soft white mineral used in a range of cosmetic products, including body powders. Though natural talc deposits may contain asbestos, which is a known carcinogen, cosmetic talcum powder has been asbestos-free since the 1970s, according to the American Cancer Society. Nevertheless, some research has linked it to increased risk of ovarian cancer. In February 2016 Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who used the company’s talcum powder for nearly 50 years and died of ovarian cancer. And in May 2016 it was ordered to pay $55 million in a similar case. Many other lawsuits are pending.
The main concern is that when women use the powder in the groin area, talc particles may migrate through the genital tract to the ovaries. Some observational studies have found a slightly increased risk of the most common form of ovarian cancer in women who used talcum powder long term. But overall the research has yielded contradictory or inconclusive findings. Still, based on limited evidence from human studies, the International Agency for Cancer Research classifies genital use of talcum powder as “possibly carcinogenic.”
Lung disease, including lung cancer, is another concern—but primarily in workers who inhale talc dust particles during mining and processing. A few cases of serious lung problems have been reported from chronic overuse of cosmetic talc products.
Bottom line: To be on the safe side, don’t use talcum powder. If you want to use it on occasion, do so only in a well-ventilated room and limit how much you apply; women shouldn’t use it in the genital area. As an alternative, switch to cornstarch-based products. If you use any powder on a baby, pour it out carefully and keep it away from the baby’s face, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics, which notes that published reports indicate that talc (as well as cornstarch) in baby powder can injure a baby’s lungs.