Author – Smruti Jain
Talcum powder is one of the finest and softest minerals on Earth. Owing to its properties it is often used commercially to absorb moisture on human skin, while industrial talcum powder is used for manufacturing roofing, plastic, ceramics, paper, flooring, and rubber. However, there is growing concern about talcum powder being contaminated with asbestos. In this article, we explore if there are any dangers of contamination of asbestos in talcum powder.
What is Talcum Powder?
Before we learn about the dangers of the contamination, let’s first know what talc is. Talcum powder is made from a mineral called ‘talc’, which is composed of silicon, oxygen, and magnesium (hydrated magnesium silicate). It is the softest mineral on earth and as a powder, it can absorb moisture and reduce friction. This way, it keeps your skin from drying up and prevents rashes at the same time. Due to this, it is widely used as baby powder or facial powder. Additionally, it is very useful for industrial purposes of manufacturing household materials such as paper notebooks, rubber, kitchenware as well as plastic containers.
Is There Asbestos in Talcum Powder?
While the pure form of talc is free of asbestos and shows no link to cancer, geologically talc and asbestos deposits are naturally formed alongside each other. Thus, talc is easily contaminated with asbestos while it is being mined. Despite processing and purification, minute quantities of asbestos may remain in talcum products. Such traces of asbestos from talcum powder in cosmetics and personal hygiene products may prove to be dangerous for our health on long term use.
Fortunately, we can try to distinguish the asbestos-free talc from the asbestos-contaminated one. Usually, asbestos-free talc is less clear. Always look out for products and check if they have even a hint of asbestos before using them.
What Are The Dangers Of Asbestos In Talcum Powder?
There are a lot of health effects that asbestos can cause. Here are some of the dangers that are posed by the contamination of asbestos from talcum powder in cosmetic and personal hygiene products:
Many studies have had mixed findings about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. It was suggested that chronic exposure to asbestos found in talcum powder on regular use of hygiene products may lead to ovarian cancer since the powder is usually applied to the genital area. One study suggested that genital use may slightly increase the risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer among post-menopause women as well. Further studies are needed to explore this topic.
Based on limited evidence from human studies of a link to ovarian cancer, the International Agency of Research on Cancer classifies the genital use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans. Although some studies suggest an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases among talc miners, there is no risk of lung cancer reported due to the use of cosmetic talcum powder.
Baby products have to be as safe and sanitary as possible since baby skin is highly sensitive. However, if your talcum powder is contaminated with asbestos, inhaling it might cause cancer such as mesothelioma. This is a rare form of incurable cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos. This happens when particles of asbestos get stuck in the lining of your abdomen, heart, or even your lungs. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine presented case studies of 33 people with mesothelioma whose only exposure to asbestos was through the use of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.
Talc contamination of asbestos may also lead to other asbestos-related diseases like asbestosis, also called pneumoconiosis. While this link has been observed among talc miners, research on commercial usage falls short. When asbestos is inhaled and gets lodged onto inner lung tissues and air sacs stimulating an immune response.
Since the body’s immune system is unable to decompose or breakdown the asbestos particles, it starts covering the lungs. Although it does not metastasize or spread like cancer, it does form scar tissue that will make it difficult to breathe. Eventually, the body’s organs get stressed due to deficient oxygen from the lungs.
Talcum powder is used on delicate parts of the human body. So, even a little contamination of asbestos can be harmful to our health when such talc is used regularly. Increased public awareness has compelled many companies to stop selling such products in the US. We must also make sure that the talcum powder we use does not have asbestos. The best way to be careful is by switching to alternatives containing cornstarch, kaolin clay, bentonite clay, tapioca starch, which are just as effective.