Talc and Mesothelioma
Talc can cause mesothelioma if it includes asbestos, which is the only proven source of mesothelioma. The toxic substance can contaminate talc products without the user knowing.
Written by Jenna Campagna, RN
What Is Talc?
Talc is a soft, naturally occurring mineral found throughout the country. It’s usually green, white, gray or brown and is comprised mainly of three elements: magnesium, silicon and oxygen.
Talc is often made into a powder, which is called talcum powder. When crushed into a powder, the substance can absorb moisture, oils, odors and other infectants. These properties keep your skin dry and prevent rashes.
How Does Asbestos Contaminate Talc?
Asbestos, like talc, is a naturally occurring silicate mineral found underground and in many of the same geographic areas as talc. Asbestos and talc often are neighbors in the earth’s soil.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the two substances are usually found close enough to one another that they can mix. When talc is mined, there’s a high probability of asbestos contamination. The International Agency for Research on Cancer labels asbestos-containing talc as a cancerous material for humans.
A 2020 study by the FDA revealed how frequently asbestos contaminates talc-based cosmetic commodities. Around 23% of the items tested included detectable asbestos.
The FDA is considering wide-scale changes to how it tests for asbestos in talc cosmetics. In 2017, the agency formed a task force dedicated to analyzing how the FDA currently tests — and where to make improvements.
Scientific Explanation of How Contaminated Talc Causes Mesothelioma
Contaminated talc causes mesothelioma due to loose asbestos fibers entering your body and irritating cells in specific locations. This results in cellular mutation, which forms tumors.
Asbestos is a proven carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer and other diseases. The substance includes microscopic fibers that, when disturbed, can enter the air. These fibers can be inhaled or ingested, both of which could result in mesothelioma forming.
When people use a talc product that includes asbestos fibers, the loose dust can be inhaled or ingested into the body. The fibers are sharp, and they can puncture the thin lining near either your lung or abdominal cavity.
Studies Confirm Connection Between Talc and Mesothelioma
TIME magazine reported on a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. This study analyzed 33 mesothelioma patients with one shared trait: All of them had the cancer despite talc powder being their only known exposure to asbestos.
The authors of the study then highlighted six individuals who “underwent tissue testing that showed fibers consistent with the type of asbestos found in cosmetic talc, but not in things like building supplies and insulation,” according to the TIME article.
Therefore, the researchers ruled out other methods, such as occupational asbestos exposure or a secondhand source.
A second study, which was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, analyzed the connection between cosmetic talc and mesothelioma. The researchers found 75 people whose only known asbestos exposure was from asbestos-contaminated talc.
Who Is Affected By Talc and Mesothelioma?
Women, in particular, are most at risk of mesothelioma after using a talc item. Mesothelioma is a concern for women because they’re likely to use talc-based cosmetic products, either on themselves or their children.
In both of the aforementioned studies, women comprised the vast majority of cases.
Dr. Jacqueline Moline, of the Hofstra School of Medicine, said the study “suggests that cosmetic talcum powder use may help explain the high prevalence of idiopathic mesothelioma cases, particularly among women.”
Talc Products That Can Cause Mesothelioma
Numerous everyday products list talc as one of the ingredients. These products are the culprit in talc and mesothelioma having a connection.
According to various online sources and published news articles, the goods include:
- Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder
- Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower Powder
- Degree Men Antiperspirant and Deodorant
- Centrum Multivitamins, and other supplements
- Chanel after-shower health and beauty powders
- Walgreens Aspirin 81
- Chewing gum
- Food processing
- Talcum powder used in barbershops (to reduce irritation on the neck or face)
- Various cosmetics (lipstick, mascara, face powder, blush, eye shadow or even children’s makeup)
According to a New York Times article from 2018, talc was even used to make condoms and surgical gloves.
Using talc to make cosmetics was a standard practice for nearly all of the 20th century. In the 1990s, the FDA requested manufacturers to stop using talc for these products due to health concerns. Some organizations even found the mineral in children’s crayons and other toys.
In 1976, the New York Times reported that 10 out of the 19 talc-based body and baby powders tested included asbestos fibers. Specifically, the researchers found the fibers mixed in the talcum powder.
The 10 brand-name products contaminated with asbestos were:
- 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
Talc is still a primary ingredient in many products. The New York Times states brands may list talc under various names, including:
- Talcum powder
- Cosmetic talc
- Magnesium silicate
Mesothelioma Legal Cases Involving Talc
Talc is the primary ingredient in most baby powder products, which is the source of many legal battles involving talc and mesothelioma lawsuits.
The FDA has conducted tests of cosmetic products since 2017, and in 2019 the organization found asbestos in samples of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder product. That news led to Johnson & Johnson recalling the specific lot that was reportedly contaminated.
The company, which faces thousands of mesothelioma lawsuits, announced in May 2020 that it would cease production and sale of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada. This news is a significant victory for activist organizations in the fight against asbestos exposure from talc-based health and beauty items.
Reuters published an article in 2018 claiming Johnson & Johnson knew its product was tainted with the carcinogen. In July 2019, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Johnson & Johnson lied about their knowledge of asbestos in their products.
If true, then the company willingly allowed many customers to be placed at extraordinary risk of developing mesothelioma.
According to a Bloomberg article, Johnson & Johnson faces more than 14,000 civil claims related to its baby powder. There have already been numerous verdicts favoring talc and mesothelioma victims against Johnson & Johnson:
- A California jury awarded a talc and mesothelioma victim $29.4 million in 2019
- Another verdict in 2019 awarded a total of $4.7 billion to 22 patients
- A jury in 2020 hit Johnson & Johnson with a $750 million verdict in punitive damages.
Other companies face similar legal issues due to their talc products. Claire’s and Chanel both are defendants in asbestos lawsuits regarding their talc items.
If you have mesothelioma and used health and beauty powder products, you may have been exposed to talc contaminated with asbestos. Our team can help you get a free case evaluation from legal experts. Contact us today to learn if a talc product caused your disease.
Last Edited: December 2, 2020.