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What is Talcum Powder?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Talcum powder is a cosmetic product made from finely ground talc, an extremely soft mineral. One of its most common uses is in baby care, with some parents using it to reduce rashes and irritation from diapers. It can also be used on adults to prevent chafing and rashes, and some people have come up for creative uses for this product, like sweeping it into the cracks of wooden floors to prevent them from squeaking.

This product's primary role is as a moisture absorber. By sucking up moisture from the surrounding area, talcum powder keeps the skin dry. This can reduce the risk of rashes and chafing from sweat, urine, and other bodily secretions, and it also increases comfort in hot weather. Many babies find it very comforting, since they do not have any control over when their diapers are changed.

Women sometimes use talcum powder to avoid chafing between the thighs while wearing skirts, and athletes may also apply it before suiting up for sports to help wick away sweat and increase comfort. It is also used on some bed-bound people to prevent the development of rashes and sores, especially if they have thick folds of skin which could harbor moisture.

Some people have raised concerns that talcum products may be linked with cancer, often in strongly-worded scare campaigns which are designed to frighten consumers into stop using it altogether. The American Cancer Society has conducted several studies to determine whether or not talcum powder is linked with cancer, and the results have been inconclusive.

Inhaling or swallowing this product can certainly be harmful, as it can irritate the lungs and intestinal tract. Exposure to this product has also caused the development of tumors in some laboratory animals. However, studies on humans have not been able to prove a positive link, partially because some study subjects were exposed to talcum powder which contained asbestos; until the 1970s, it was perfectly legal to have asbestos (a naturally occurring mineral) in talcum products. Further studies are needed to determine whether or not it is totally safe.

For people who are concerned that talcum powder could be harmful, there are talc-free products with a similar function on the market. Most of these products are made with cornstarch, and in fact some people just use straight cornstarch, skipping the perfumed and ornately packaged version in the natural baby products aisle.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon334151 — On May 10, 2013

The mineral talc is sometimes associated with asbestos where mined. This type of talc is rarely mined any more, and certainly not used by any reputable producer of cosmetics. Cosmetics account for a very small fraction of the use of fine talc. Much more is used in paints, plastics, rubber and ceramics. Talc is unique for being very soft, but also because it slightly oleophilic (likes oil) and thus can adsorb or mix well with oils (or melted plastics).

By lluviaporos — On Oct 26, 2012
@Mor - I don't know about that. We used asbestos for years as well, not knowing that it was so very toxic. I can't believe they even put it into talcum powder! It really makes me glad to live in an era where most things need to be extensively tested before people can use them.

I'm not a big user of talcum powder anyway, although I have got some talcum deodorant that I sometimes use in my shoes if they get nasty. I'm going to be extra careful not to inhale it from now on.

By Mor — On Oct 25, 2012
@anon212910 - Actually, I'm not sure about whether talcum powder quality is related to how much it costs. It sounds to me like plain and simple talcum powder or cornstarch which hasn't been dressed up at all, like lavender talcum powder, with perfumes and coloring is going to be much better for you and that isn't going to be very expensive.

I think it's more a matter of whether or not you believe talcum powder can cause cancer. I guess if it was extremely high risk we would have seen the results of that before now, since talcum powder has been used for decades.

By yllaine10 — On Mar 19, 2012

Talcum has so many uses, and not only for babies, although it plays a vital role in keeping our baby feeling fresh and comfy all day, especially during summer.

It's better if we also highlight in the article the reason why some talcum powder causes irritation at some point. I don't really know if there are just talcum powders that are really strong, or the main reason could be due to some ingredients that are mixed with it and then it becomes strong when it should not be.

By anon212910 — On Sep 09, 2011

You point out various things on this page and I really got a lot of information. Talcum powder could be harmful, but this depends on the product and which quality you use, so please use better quality talc powder for these products.

By anon161079 — On Mar 18, 2011

Talcum powder sprinkled into the lavatory bowl immediately eliminates any odor.

By dill1971 — On Jul 04, 2010

@cmsmith10: Those are great ideas! I have a few more to add to your list.

Powder will take the squeak out of your squeaky floorboards. Find the spot where the squeak is and sprinkle powder between those boards. It quiets them down.

Have a knot in your shoelace? Sprinkle some powder into the knot and then work it loose.

My favorite: When you are finished with your powder, put the container in the dishwasher to clean it. Make sure that it is completely dry and then fill it with flour. It is great when a recipe calls for a dusting of flour. You can also fill it with confectioners sugar.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 04, 2010

We often associate talcum powder with baby bottoms. I wanted to share a few other uses for talcum powder that you might not have known.

It is great for removing grease from carpet. Cover the grease stain with talcum powder and let it sit for three to four hours. Vacuum the powder and the stain usually comes out.

Ants do not like it. Sprinkle the powder around the foundation of your house to get rid of unwanted ants. Use it at any entryway.

It works great to prevent your skin from being irritated when using an electric shaver. Just pat a little on your face before shaving.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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