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Talcum Powder and Mesothelioma

Manufacturers use talcum powder in a variety of consumer and industrial products. The most famous product is Johnson & Johnson’s iconic Baby Powder. Regulators consider talcum powder safe. But talcum powder contaminated with asbestos may cause a rare, deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Some people who used talcum powder filed lawsuits after they said it caused mesothelioma.

Last Modified: March 5, 2024
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Talcum powder is the refined form of a mineral found in nature called talc. Because it is soft and silky, manufacturers use it in a variety of consumer products from baby powder to makeup.

Some studies and lawsuits link long-term talcum powder use to mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare, generally incurable cancer that may occur from inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers.

Talc and asbestos minerals occur close to each other in the earth. This means that asbestos fibers may contaminate talc during mining.

Talcum products sold in the U.S. have been declared asbestos-free since the 1970s.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said cosmetic talc should not contain asbestos. But, the agency does not require manufacturer to submit talc safety reports.

Recently, studies have found asbestos in some brands of makeup marketed to children. Several brands of talcum powder manufactured before the 1970s also contained asbestos.

People who filed lawsuits claimed Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers knew their talc products could cause mesothelioma. J&J announced it would stop selling talc-based baby powder in 2023, according to an August 2022 announcement. The company insists its product is safe and the decision to discontinue its iconic baby powder is purely financial.

How Does Talcum Powder Cause Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma occurs when tumors grow in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. People with mesothelioma usually get it by inhaling or swallowing asbestos for several years.

Talcum powder contaminated with asbestos can become airborne. The small fibers can enter the body through the nose or the mouth.

Asbestos fibers embed in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. This causes tissue inflammation and tumors may form over time.

Men and women who developed mesothelioma used talcum powder such as J&J’s Shower to Shower for several years, according to lawsuits.

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How Long Does It Take for Mesothelioma to Develop?

It can take 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma to develop after exposure to asbestos, according to the American Cancer Society.

This means people that exposed to talcum powder with asbestos before the 1980s might be at risk of developing mesothelioma in the 2000s or later.

Did You Know?
Mesothelioma may take up to 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.

Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms do not show up immediately. Patients do not usually find out that they have mesothelioma until the cancer has spread.

Depending on the type of mesothelioma, symptoms can be different.

Consumer Products

Several consumer products contain talcum powder. The most famous is Johnson’s Baby Powder. On May 19, 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would discontinue sales of talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada, citing declining demand for the product.

Brush with face powder
Shimmery makeup such as blush uses talc to give it shine and texture

Powdery or shimmery makeup such as blush, lipstick, foundation, mascara and eye shadow uses talc to give it shine and texture. Companies also use it in soaps and beauty creams.

Most talc-containing products without asbestos are safe. But, if talc in these products contains asbestos, it may cause mesothelioma.

For example, people who used talc-containing products for years may be at risk. Talc exposure might occur on the job for people who work with consumer talcum powder products, including barbers or makeup artists.

A report released in the 1970s by Mount Sinai Hospital revealed that 10 out of 19 consumer talcum powders it tested contained asbestos, according to New York Times report. These products may have exposed people to asbestos.

Talcum Powders Containing Asbestos in Mount Sinai Study
  • ZBT Baby Powder with Baby Oil
  • Cashmere Bouquet Body Talc
  • Coty Airspun Face Powder
  • Rosemary Talc
  • Bauer & Black Baby Talc
  • Faberge Brut Talc
  • Yardley Invisible Talc
  • Yardley Black Label Baby Powder
  • Mennen Shave Talc
  • English Leather After Shave Talc

Asbestos-Contaminated Talc in Makeup

All makeup sold after the 1970s should be asbestos free. But contaminated talcum powder may still make its way into some makeup products.

For example, a 2018 study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that nine products sold by Claire’s, a fashion accessory retail chain, contained asbestos. The company recalled the products, although it denied asbestos contamination.

Claire’s filed for bankruptcy in March 2018.

U.S. PIRG did not find any asbestos in 11 other products, including those made by Cover Girl and L’Oreal.

Justice, a retail chain for tween girls, recalled eight products from its Just Shine line of makeup because of asbestos-contamination in 2018.

Industrial Products

Miner Holding Chunk of Mineral
Miners are at great risk from exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc in mines

Exposure to talcum powder can also occur in an industrial setting. Manufacturers use industrial talcum powder to make building materials, paper products, paints, plastics, rubber and other products.

Wastewater plants use talc to purify water.

Asbestos-contaminated talc in mines and factories could have exposed workers. Talc miners, millers and factory workers are most at risk.

Studies and Findings

Some studies link talcum powder containing asbestos to mesothelioma, but others do not.

For example, a 2014 study found asbestos fibers in the lungs of a woman who used talcum powder and died of mesothelioma.

Ronald E. Gordon and colleagues published the study and said that asbestos fibers from the powder accumulated in the woman’s lungs. They tested 50 samples of one brand of talcum powder produced over a 50-year period and found asbestos.

A 2002 study found that several talc miners and millers in New York state developed mesothelioma.

Another 2017 study in the journal Inhalation Toxicology found no asbestos in cosmetic talc.

Did You Know?
The FDA cannot guarantee that talcum powder products do not contain asbestos.

The FDA conducted a study of samples of raw cosmetic talc from September 2009 to September 2010.

The agency did not find asbestos in the talc samples. However, only four talc suppliers provided samples.

The FDA said the results of the study “do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination.”

Talcum Powder Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Recently, a few people who developed mesothelioma filed lawsuits against talcum powder manufacturers.

The lawsuits claim that manufacturers knew that their products contained asbestos and could cause cancer.

In April 2018, a New Jersey jury awarded Stephen Lanzo III and his wife $117 million after he said talcum powder caused his mesothelioma.

Lanzo’s lawsuit said Johnson & Johnson’s knew Shower to Shower and Baby Powder products contained asbestos.

Manufacturers also face thousands of lawsuits that claim talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.