There's no shortage of products and substances that women are encouraged to use to 'improve' their genitals – from essential oils to skin lightening creams – and doctor and gynaecologists are constantly warning us that these substances can cause irritation or more dire symptoms. Now, there's a more serious warning about one common household product: baby powder, aka talc.
Women are being advised not to put talcum powder on their vulva (the external part of the vagina) because it is a potential cause of ovarian cancer. Women should not use products containing the naturally occurring mineral – like baby powder, genital antiperspirants and deodorants, body wipes, and bath bombs – on their genitals, according to a new report by Health Canada, the country's governmental health body.
The report says, "a meta-analyses of the available human studies in the peer-reviewed literature indicate a consistent and statistically significant positive association between perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer." The perineum being the area between the vulva and anus.
It points to studies which found talc particles in the ovaries of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. "Migration of talc particles from the vagina to the ovaries has been identified as a plausible explanation of these findings," it said, adding that the particles had found their way their through the reproductive tract.
Given the potential for perineal exposure to talc self-care products like "body powder, baby powder, diaper and rash creams, genital antiperspirants and deodorants, body wipes, bath bombs," the report said the mineral was "a potential concern for human health".
In a draft assessment, Health Canada is proposing that use of talcum powder on the female genital area may potentially cause ovarian cancer. Before this assessment can be finalized, a 60-day public comment period invites feedback. https://t.co/Cp3kHGVPTC— OvarianCancerCanada (@OvarianCanada) December 5, 2018
Following this period, Health Canada will review the scientific evidence to determine whether talc is indeed harmful. Concerned Canadians can minimize exposure to talc by checking product labels, avoiding female genital exposure to talc and choosing a talc-free alternative.— OvarianCancerCanada (@OvarianCanada) December 5, 2018
If the final screening assessment confirms that talc is harmful to human health, the Government of Canada will seek to control risks. If you have specific talc-related questions, please direct inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org. https://t.co/Cp3kHGVPTC— OvarianCancerCanada (@OvarianCanada) December 5, 2018
The report also links talc to potentially serious respiratory problems, including difficulty breathing, reduces lung function and fibrosis, or lung scarring. It warns against inhaling loose particles and advises keeping it far away from babies' faces.
Health Canada is now "considering measures to prohibit or restrict the use of talc in certain cosmetics, natural health products and non-prescription drugs". While its assessment is far from the first damning verdict on the possible health impact of talcum powder on human health, it's a big step for a national government to take.
In July, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.7bn (£3.6bn) in damages to 22 women who alleged that its talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Of the 22 women represented in the case and six-week trial, six had died from ovarian cancer. Their lawyers argued that the talc was contaminated with asbestos since the 1970s and that the company had failed to warn users of the risks. (Cosmetic-grade talc powder no longer contains asbestos or other potential impurities, and Health Canada's assessment was based on these rather than the latter).
Even those with doubts about the direct link between talc and ovarian cancer, such as eminent gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter, see no reason for why women should put talc anywhere near their private parts. Just don't even think about it.
For more news and reporting on cosmetic and non-cosmetic procedures targeted at women's vaginas, visit our #YourVaginasFine microsite.