Is Talc Bad for Your Skin?

Skin Care

baby powder

For years, every morning, my mother would tell me to use baby powder instead of pricier pressed or loose cosmetic powders.

“It absorbs the oil better,” my mother, a former beautician, would inform me before dusting the powder across my face.

Around 1995, we heard a report that talc is bad for your skin, causing breakouts and clogging pores.  So we switched to regular ol’ powders.  Then, the other day, I was reviewing Estee Lauder Double Matte Oil-Free Pressed Powder – voted #1 on Total Beauty for oily skin – and it occurred to me that the main ingredient in the product was talc.  Could it be that we were avoiding talc for no reason all of these years?

Talc Does Not Clog Pores

Turns out that talc is noncomedogenic, meaning that it does not clog pores.  A 1984 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that a mixture including water, glycerin, and talc was less comedogenic than numerous other ingredients common to skin care, including isopropyl isostearate, butyl stearate, myristyl myristate, and many others.

Talc Does Not Cause Lung Cancer

Talc was long believed to cause a health concern because it is closely related to asbestos (they are both silicates).  In the industrial setting, talc can be contaminated with asbestos fibers.  However, since 1976, the cosmetics’ makers association called upon its members to make cosmetics-grade talc asbestos-free.  A 2006 review in Occupational and Environmental Medicine confirmed this report, finding no increased risk of lung cancer when using talc-based cosmetic products.

Despite this, it is important not to let your infant inhale too much of the talc in baby powder.  Several hundred infants each year inspire too much baby powder, leading to respiratory complications, according to a review in Toxicology Letters.  It is best to apply the powder into your hands a safe distance away from the infant first, and then apply to the child.

Talc Does Not Cause Ovarian Cancer, Either

There was a lot of alarm a few years ago, when a study found that applying talcum powder to the genital area could increase ovarian cancer in women.  However, as pointed out by The Beauty Brains, the study found a higher risk with deodorizing powders (i.e., talc and silica) than non-deodorizing powders (i.e., talc alone).  Further, the study ultimately concluded that the results were inconclusive, and additional research needed to be done.  In one later study, the ovaries of rats were actually injected with talc, and cancer did not develop.

Bottom Line:  Talc is Good!

I never knew the day would come, but now I’m back to periodically dusting my face with baby powder again.  (!)  Researchers from Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology to the Cosmetics Cop Paula Begoun agree with my conclusion that talc is not only non-carcinogenic, but cosmetically beneficial to the skin, absorbing oil, preventing shine, and providing a lightweight base for further cosmetic application.  I’m a fan again, and I can now safely recommend Estée Lauder Double Matte Powder to my readers too!  🙂

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  • pops

    I’ve been using talc for a long time to set my makeup and it only just occurred to me today that it COULD be dangerous (even though I didn’t think it was) but this article was very helpful. thanks!

  • Zooey

    Great read! Thanks for sharing. I’ve been using baby powder on my face since I could remember, and my skin reacts to it really well! I’ve tried using powder compacts or other face make up after putting on moisturizer, but it just makes my face really oily. My daily routine after moisturizing is putting on a bit of cheek tint and then baby powder and voila! My skin looks naturally rosy and not oily for a long time!

  • priya

    does using compact powder regularly leads to cancer?? pls say it clearly…iam worried about using it since one year.

  • Huong L

    Dear Nicki Zevola
    Thanks so much for sharing a comprehensive review and personal experience.

    Hi Geoff,
    I completely agree with your view.

    I am now feeling very safe & happy using talc as well.

  • Geoff

    Thanks for this sensible and reasoned assessment that talc is safe! The internet is full of unfounded and alarmist reports about the dangers and risks of using talc that just serve to spread fear and uncertainty among the ill-informed.

    A basic understanding of the chemical properties of talc (inert, insoluble, hydrophobic) and its physical structure (soft, tiny platelets) means that any comparison with fibrous asbestos is absurd.

    Common sense dictates that one should avoid inhalation of talc since any airborne dust, regardless of its composition, is likely to be an irritant.

    We need to remember that toxicity is a question of dosage – even water is toxic if drunk excessively!

  • @Hanan – Good call! I totally missed that one…

  • Hanan

    “agree with my conclusion that talc is not only carcinogenic, but …”

    I think you meant to say “not only non-carcinogenic”

    Great article though, thank you.

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