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March 2016

The Softest Rock on Earth

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, Miami, Florida

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(3):317. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.4238

The name for talc, a sheer white mineral, is derived from the Greek word talq, which means “pure.” It is the softest rock on earth. Talc sculptures, vessels, and seals decorated with mythical creatures and animals created by the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappo craftsmen have been found that date back to over 5000 years ago. These craftsmen usually heated their talc, generating a hard, luminous surface.1 Talc was also used in exquisite Chinese carvings as well as Assyrian cylindrical signets and seals. The ancient Egyptians created scarabs and amulets out of talc, which they commonly varnished with a blue, glossy finish.2 In addition, talc sculptures from 1100 ce have been discovered in Belur, Halebid and Sravanabelagola, India. In 1890, the powdered form of talc—talcum powder—was found to relieve skin irritations caused by Johnson & Johnson’s medicated plasters and was soon used in many other plaster mixes. Johnson & Johnson also realized that talc mitigated diaper rash, leading to the invention of Johnson’s Baby Powder in 1894, which is still used today.1

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