You’ve probably heard at some point that baby powder has been linked to ovarian cancer, and that several lawsuits between talcum manufacturers and consumers have been settled with massive payouts because of this potentially deadly connection. But should you really be worried?
First of all, in case you’ve never made baby powder a part of your daily hygiene routine, you should know that some women sprinkle talcum powder in their underwear to help fight odors and dry up perspiration.
While many studies have indeed linked talc use on the genitals to ovarian cancer, research findings have been inconsistent.
One epidemiological study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention found that genital talcum powder use increased the risk of developing ovarian cancer in African-American women.
But a National Cancer Institute report published in April says that the “weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.” The National Cancer Institute also says that it’s “not clear” if there is an association.
Theoretically, foreign substances have access to a woman’s internal organs via the vagina, which leads right into the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, says Michael Cackovic, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “The theories of talc causing ovarian cancer stem from this, as well as talc being an irritant that the body seeks to expel, causing cellular growth,” he says. “Additionally, talc is structurally similar to asbestos, a known carcinogen, and decades ago talc may have been contaminated with asbestos.”
That being said, there are many risk factors for ovarian cancer, ranging from genetic conditions (like the BRCA gene mutation), to a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, to infertility, according to the American Cancer Society. Cackovic says that the evidence is “really not that conclusive”whether baby powder use is one of them but, he points out, it’s impossible to weed out any of the other risk factors when studying this. That’s why he recommends avoiding using talc on your perineal area if you’re concerned about ovarian cancer.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s natural to have a little bit of odor down there—but if the scent starts to concern you, talk to your doctor before reaching for any type of cosmetic product.