Widespread use of talc in consumer products

Q What is talc, and why is asbestos relevant?

A Talc is a mineral in clay mined from underground deposits. It's the softest mineral known to man, and that makes it useful in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.

Asbestos is also found underground, and veins of it can often be found in talc deposits, leading to a risk of cross-contamination, geologists say.

Q Are any other consumer products made with talc?

A Talc is used in many cosmetics: lipstick, mascara, face powder, blush, eye shadow, foundation and even children's makeup. In the list of ingredients, it can be listed as talc, talcum or talcum powder, cosmetic talc or magnesium silicate.

Talc is added to cosmetics to create a silky feel and absorb moisture. Some brands make talc-free cosmetics.

Talc is also used in food processing, and to make some supplements, pharmaceutical pills, chewing gum and polished rice. Consumer groups have also found it in crayons and children's toys, like crime-scene fingerprint kits.

Talc was routinely applied to surgical gloves and condoms until the 1990s, when the US Food and Drug Administration told manufacturers to stop using it because of health concerns.

 
 

And it is typically the primary ingredient in baby powder. Johnson's Baby Powder is made of talc, unless the bottle says "pure cornstarch" on the front. If you are using another brand, check the ingredients.

Q Should I keep talc away from my baby?

A Yes. Paediatricians have been warning parents for decades not to use powder on babies because of the risk a child will inhale or aspirate talc, which can cause choking and coughing and lead to respiratory illness or chronic disease and lung damage. This has nothing to do with asbestos.

Cases of babies dying from choking on powder were reported as early as the 1960s, and since 1981, the American Academy of Paediatrics has taken a strong position against the use of talc on babies and children, saying it is hazardous.

Q Is there a safe alternative?

A Paediatricians suggest changing infants' diapers frequently to prevent rashes, and recommend using an oil-based ointment when necessary, rather than using talc.

For teenagers or adults, cornstarch is a good alternative to using talc on the skin or genital area to stay dry and prevent chafing and irritation.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 16, 2018, with the headline 'Widespread use of talc in consumer products'. Print Edition | Subscribe