Protect Your Lungs from Talcum PowderNov 25, 2019
by the editorial team
Are you aware of the damaging effects talcum powder can have on your lungs, as well as your overall health?
Even though talcum powder is commonly used in everyday consumer products (such as baby powder), it poses health risks.
In this article, we will discuss the potential damaging effects of talcum powder, as well as 5 tips to reduce your exposure and protect your lungs from talcum powder.
What is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is made from a mineral called talc, which is made up of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. In its natural form, talc may also contain asbestos, which is a well-known carcinogen.
Asbestos is an established cause of lung cancer and mesothelioma—an uncommon type of cancer that arises in the mesothelial cells lining the chest and abdominal cavities.
In 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA) issued voluntary guidelines stating that all talc used in cosmetic products in the United States should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos according to their standards. However, talc is still widely used today in cosmetics and other personal care products, food (such as rice and chewing gum), and in the manufacturing of tablets.
There is talc that is free of asbestos. But, the health effects from asbestos-free talc is not understood fully. And, it's hard to know which talc contains asbestos.
So it’s important to be mindful of talcum powder’s health risks, and how to protect yourself.
Damaging Effects of Talcum Powder on Your Lungs (and More)
If talcum powder contains traces of asbestos, it could have damaging effects on your lungs.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can stick to mucus in your throat, trachea, or bronchi. Some particles reach the ends of the small airways and penetrate into the outer lining of the lung, known as pleura. They can irritate the cells in the lung or pleura, eventually causing lung cancer and other lung-related diseases.
Studies of talc miners and millers, as well as other asbestos-exposed workers, have shown an increased risk of lung cancer as well as other respiratory diseases.
However, most cases of lung cancer occur at least 15 years after the first exposure.
The possible harmful effects of talcum powder extend beyond lung damage.
It has been suggested that talcum powder may cause ovarian cancer if the powder particles were to come in contact with the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes. More on this below in the Johnson & Johnson section.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classifies the genital use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Research has also linked talcum powder to endometrial cancer, stomach cancer, and other types of cancers.
Which Products Contain Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is most widely used in cosmetics to absorb moisture, to prevent caking, to make facial makeup opaque, or to improve the feel of a product.
Talc can be used as a food additive, food coloring, and as a separating agent in sweet goods, bakery, rice, powdered dried foods, seasonings, cheese, sausage skins, and table salt.
Talc can also be used as an inert excipient in the manufacture of tablets, as well as a glidant to control the flow of powder in pharmaceutical products.
The Johnson & Johnson Controversy
In October 2019, Johnson & Johnson (a brand well-known for their baby products) recalled a "lot" of baby powder that was tested positive for asbestos. At the same time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports on its website, a sample from another "lot" of Johnson & Johnson baby powder tested negative for asbestos.
The product was recalled and removed from the shelves immediately.
However, the company also said they wouldn't confirm if the sample was cross-contaminated, whether the product’s seal was intact, or whether the sample was taken from an authentic bottle of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder.
In the past few years, Johnson & Johnson has been subject to litigation with plaintiffs alleging, among other things, that the company knew its products have been contaminated with asbestos and chose to do nothing about it.
In the case of one plaintiff, Jacqueline Fox, who died of ovarian cancer in 2015 after years of daily J&J product use, the jury of her case ruled that Johnson & Johnson should be held liable for negligence, conspiracy, and failure to alert women of the possible harms. Johnson & Johnson was required to pay damages of $72 million to the plaintiff's family.
Even though the company claims to do extensive testing on all of its products, it's hard to know how many other products may contain asbestos.
5 Tips to Reduce Exposure to Talcum Powder
Cosmetic products that contain talc do not have to undergo FDA approval or review before going to the market. If you would like to reduce your exposure to talcum powder:
- Avoid or limit the use of consumer products that contain talcum powder.
- Avoid unnecessary powder products since it is hard to know if they are safe.
- Look for talc-free alternatives to baby powder, such as Burt’s Bees Baby Dusting Powder or Nature’s Baby Dusting Powder.
- For homemade alternatives, consider using cornstarch, arrowroot starch, baking soda, or oat flour instead of talcum powder.
- If you do choose to use products containing talcum powder, avoid inhaling or swallowing them, as that can do the most damage to your lungs. And be mindful of when you use them around others, especially children and elderly.
Talcum powder is one example of many other avoidable toxic exposures you should know about. For practical detox tweaks in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below! It's full of helpful tips for detoxing your environment, habits, and body.
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