“Based on the latest science and the final screening assessment completed in 2021, the Government of Canada concludes that talc may be harmful to lungs when inhaling certain loose talc powder products, and it may cause ovarian cancer when using certain self-care products containing talc in the female genital area.” This, according to a media release issued just last week from Health Canada, the country’s governmental department responsible for national health policy.
Consumer health hazards of talc limited to inhalation and feminine hygiene
The release emphasizes that “most uses of talc are not a concern to human health” and that “Talc is not harmful for the environment.” All the same the findings of an assessment of talc in consumer products, run in accordance with the Chemicals Management Plan of Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada has resulted in a comprehensive risk management proposal.
Inhalation exposure to talc from cosmetics and personal care product use isn’t limited to the most obvious beauty products made with talc, such as loose setting powders, mattifying powers, and the like. According to the Government of Canada’s screening assessment, “potential inhalation exposures were focused on products that were formulated as loose powders and were available to consumers, which included approximately 400 self-care products (primarily cosmetics).”
“Available information of interest were self-care products marketed as cosmetics, natural health products, or non-prescription drugs that are intended for application to the body, face, eyes, lips, nails, feet, buttocks (babies), and hair,” explains the assessment, adding that, “The primary uses are as makeup, moisturizers and cleansers and to a lesser extent as antiperspirant/deodorants, hair removal products, dry hair shampoo, hair colour and nail polish.”
As for perineal exposure due to talc in products meant for use in the genital area, the assessment points out that “several types of self-care products containing up to 100% talc are used in the perineal region of the body to reduce moisture and odour. Adult body powders used in the perineal region for feminine hygiene practices are still available on the Canadian market, although there has been a decline in this use over time.”
But other personal care and grooming products can expose consumers to talc is ways the government has determined are harmful: “Additional self-care products that have the potential for perineal exposure include antiperspirants and deodorants (e.g., genital antiperspirants), body wipes, bath bombs and bubble bath, and to a lesser extent (due to wash off or removal) other bath and shower products (i.e., soap, wash/gel, scrub) and products associated with hair removal (e.g., epilatory products). These products are formulated as gels, sprays, loose powders, and solid cakes and range in concentration from less than 1% to 100% talc.”
J&J stopped the sale of talc Baby Powder in Canada one year ago
It’s worth mentioning that the decline in use of baby powders for feminine hygiene that the government assessment is based on data gathered in a 2014 cohort study as well as data documented in this 2016 PubMed article. But it certainly seems likely that J&J’s relatively recent decision to pull its talc-based powder from the market may contribute to this decline as well.
In May of 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would stop selling its talc-based Baby Powder in the US and Canada, as Cosmetics Design reported. The decision was ostensibly the result of a “portfolio assessment related to COVID-19.” But years of legal trouble and an April 2020 decision in US District Court that opened the door to testimony from experts in epidemiology, cancer, and occupational and environmental health, preceded the announcement as well.
The Government of Canada is accepting public comment on talc
The risk management proposal is open for comment up until June 23, 2021, according to this month’s media release. As noted in the proposal itself, “Industry and other interested stakeholders are invited to submit comments on the content of this Risk Management Approach or other information that would help to inform decision-making.” And “Companies who have a business interest in talc are encouraged to identify themselves as stakeholders.”
Comment can be addressed to:
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Gatineau Quebec K1A 0H3
Tel: 1-800-567-1999 (in Canada) or 819-938-3232