The Real Dangers of Talc & Asbestos
I’m sure that you have already heard about the Johnson & Johnson’s lawsuit…last Thursday, they were ordered to pay 22 women $4.69 billion dollars. These women were alleging that their ovarian cancer was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. What are the real dangers of talc and asbestos?
After the jury sat through weeks of testimony from experts, they awarded $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages to the women and their families.
There are over 9,000 similar lawsuits going on right now. Big verdicts have come down saying Johnson & Johnson owes hundreds of millions in damages to the women they’ve in effect poisoned.
I have been getting so many messages with questions since posting, so I wanted to do a bit more research on talc aka talcum. What are the real dangers of talc and asbestos?
Talc up for Debate
Why is this such a big headline? The science really is up for debate. Concerns regarding talc surfaced in 1971 when scientists found talc particles embedded in ovarian and cervical cancer tissue. Some studies have shown that there is an elevated risk in women who use talc in their genital area for a long period of time. Other studies have not shown a connection.
American Cancer Society-Does Talc Cause Cancer?
When talking about whether or not talcum powder is linked to cancer, it is important to distinguish between talc that contains asbestos and talc that is asbestos-free. Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled. This type of talc is not used in modern consumer products. The evidence about asbestos-free talc, which is still widely used, is less clear.
Studies in the Lab
Studies in people
It has been suggested that talcum powder might cause cancer in the ovaries if the powder particles (applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary.
Many studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary. Findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase. Many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk. But these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier. One prospective cohort study, which would not have the same type of potential bias, has not found an increased risk. A second found a modest increase in risk of one type of ovarian cancer.
For any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to very small. Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues.
What is talcum powder?
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. As a powder, it absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. It is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders, as well as in a number of other consumer products.
In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled (see Asbestos). All talcum products used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s. Well…they should be any way…
According to Asbestos.com, current research indicates that pure talc does not cause mesothelioma. But talc that is contaminated with asbestos and asbestiform minerals has led to the development of mesothelioma.
The term “asbestos” refers to six different minerals.
Geologically, talc and asbestos can naturally form alongside each other. Not every talc deposit is contaminated with asbestos. The ones that are contaminated tend to contain tremolite or anthophyllite, both forms of amphibole asbestos, rather than chrysotile, which is the serpentine form of asbestos.
Like talc, the mineral vermiculite commonly forms alongside asbestos and asbestiform minerals. The infamous vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, was contaminated with tremolite asbestos and the asbestiform minerals richterite and winchite.
Whether a particular talc product contains asbestos has everything to do with its geologic source. If the talc deposit contains asbestos or asbestiform minerals, the products made with that talc are likely contaminated with asbestos.
Different grades of talc may contain varying degrees of asbestos contamination. Medical-grade talc is around 99 percent talc. Cosmetic-grade talc is approximately 98 percent pure talc.
Asbestos in Talcum Powder
Companies began selling talcum powder in the late 1800s to alleviate and prevent skin irritations such as chafing and diaper rash. Pulverized talc became known by many names, including “medicated powder” and “foot powder.” But its most famous branding came with the introduction of Johnson’s Baby Powder in 1893.
As generations of Americans grew up with talcum powder in their nurseries, talc companies took advantage of the powder’s low cost and good reputation by marketing a wide range of talcum powder products for adults.
Numerous companies sold perfumed talcum powder as face-dusting powder for women and after-shave powder for men. Johnson & Johnson maintained its prime position in the industry with its Shower to Shower line of body powder products.
During the first half of the 20th century, asbestos also had a positive reputation with the American public — because of the industry cover-up of the mineral’s terrible health effects. The asbestos industry spent decades denying the mineral’s toxicity, giving talcum powder manufacturers no reason to think asbestos-contaminated talc was a problem.
Unfortunately, talc and asbestos often occur in the same geological formations. Many companies sourced their talc from asbestos-contaminated mines, including sites in North Carolina, Alabama, Vermont and northern Italy.
In the 1970s, mounting medical evidence began to turn the tide of opinion against asbestos. Then in 1976, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital examined 19 samples of American talcum powder products and found asbestos in 10 of them, with the asbestos content ranging from 2 percent to as much as 20 percent, depending on the brand.
Because of the long latency period associated with asbestos-related diseases, though, many people who routinely used contaminated talcum powder in the 1960s may only just now develop symptoms.
Talcum Powder Products Associated with Asbestos
The 1976 study did not find asbestos in the talcum powder samples acquired from Johnson & Johnson. However, according to recently unsealed company documents, officials at Johnson & Johnson did suppress reports of asbestos contamination at one supplier’s mine in the early 1970s.
Today, body powder products may be made of pure talc, cornstarch or various other alternatives.
In response to lingering concerns over asbestos contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a study of American talcum powder products in 2009-2010. The FDA found no asbestos contamination, though the report cautions the sample size was limited.
Cosmetic products and ingredients do not have to undergo FDA review or approval before they go to market, with the exception of color additives. However, talcum powder and other cosmetic products must be properly labeled and must be safe for use by consumers under labeled or customary conditions of use.
The FDA monitors potential safety problems with cosmetic products and can take action if sound scientific evidence shows a product is harmful under its intended use.
While no federal regulations exist, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (now known as the Personal Care Products Council) in 1976 asked its members to use asbestos-fee talc in their products.
Talcum powder brands associated with past asbestos contamination include:
- Bauer & Black Baby Talc
- Cashmere Bouquet Body Talc
- Coty Airspun Face Powder
- Desert Flower Dusting Powder
- English Leather After Shave Talc
- Faberge Brut Talc
- Friendship Garden Talcum Powder
- Kings Men After Shave Talc
- Old Spice After Shave Talc
- Pinaud Clubman Talc Powder
- Rosemary Talc
- ZBT Baby Powder
Asbestos in Cosmetics
Several cases of contamination have involved makeup products including children’s makeup sold by national retailers Justice and Claire’s.
In 2017, Justice and Claire’s recalled the children’s makeup products that were found contaminated. In March 2018, Claire’s filed for bankruptcy, citing $2 billion in debt as the reason for filing.
Proposed Legislation for Warnings on Children’s Makeup
In response to the reports of asbestos in children’s makeup, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., introduced a bill on Feb. 7, 2018 that aims to protect kids from asbestos in makeup.
If passed, the Children’s Product Warning Label Act of 2018 would require a warning label for any cosmetic product marketed to children that isn’t proven asbestos-free.
The bill would require manufacturers of children’s makeup to use a warning label stating the product may contain asbestos, unless they submit proof
to the Department of Health and Human Services that the ingredients are sourced from an asbestos-free mine.
Manufacturers would have to use the most reliable testing methods to prove the product is free of asbestos, including the transmission electron microscopy method.
How Do You Avoid Asbestos in Makeup?
Simply looking for “all natural” or organic cosmetics isn’t enough to avoid asbestos-contaminated talc. That’s because talc is an all- natural substance. There’s no surefire way to know if the talc in
a product is truly asbestos-free without extensive testing of the individual product.
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I personally don’t use baby powder, or talcum powder in my household. It is advised to stop using this on your bottom, and I would NOT use it on your children.
As far as cosmetics, it can be quite difficult to avoid talc altogether, because it is so commonly used in the industry. I would stick to prestigious brands. There’s a reason why some cosmetics are cheap, because they use a lot of talc as a filler. If you are using a loose powder that contains talc, avoid breathing it in.
Consider Motives Custom Blend, as it is one of the best products I have found, and it is free of talc, and bismuth oxychloride free as well as great for the skin.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!
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