Talcum powder keeps the skin dry by absorbing moisture such as sweat, urine and other bodily fluids. People use it on baby bottoms to prevent rashes and irritation caused by diapers. Adults also sprinkle their thighs, underarms and other parts of their bodies to prevent chafing and rashes. However, talcum powder contains a potentially dangerous mineral, and alternative powders should be used.
Talc, a purified mineral, is the main ingredient in many talcum powders, baby powders and medicated powders as well as garden pesticides, flea powders and tick powders. Though talc rocks undergo crushing, drying and milling, it still contains tiny fibers that closely resemble those found in carcinogen asbestos. When a person or baby accidentally or purposely inhales or swallows products that contain talc, such as talcum powder, he risks talcum powder poisoning.
Symptoms of talcum powder poisoning usually appear after long-term inhalation of talc dust. According to the Mayo Clinic, those who suffer from poisoning most often display breathing problems such as chest pain, coughing, trouble breathing, rapid and shallow breathing and even lung failure. Other symptoms include decreased urination, eye irritation, jaundice, throat irritation, diarrhea and vomiting. Talcum powder may also affect the heart, causing convulsions and low blood pressure. If it reaches the nervous system, a person may experience fever, drowsiness, lethargy, twitching of the limbs and facial muscles, and even coma. The symptom of talcum powder poisoning may also manifest on the skin in blisters, rash, yellow skin and blue skin.
The prognosis of talcum powder poisoning depends on how much poison was swallowed and how quickly the person received treatment. However, workers who inhale talcum powder over extended periods of time have developed serious lung damage and cancer. There may also be a link between the use of talcum powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer, though more research is needed. Talcum powder poisoning may even lead to death.
Reduce the risk of talcum powder poisoning by using baby powders and other powders that contain main ingredients other than talc. Look for powders that contain corn starch or rice powder. Other non-toxic powders that absorb moisture and keep the skin dry include baking soda, corn flour and oat flour, which can be found at grocery stores. Online retailers and herb shops often sell powdered lavender buds, rose petals and chamomile flowers which can also be used in place of talcum powder.