Asbestos in Baby Powder

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would put a deadly substance in a consumer product, especially one meant for the world’s most vulnerable population. Yet, that’s exactly what many baby powder manufacturers have done. Asbestos is often found in talc, which has been the leading ingredient in many baby powders. This deadly mineral has put millions of Americans at risk of developing mesothelioma and other cancers.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Laura Wright

Asbestos in Baby Powder Explained

Three containers of baby powder

Talc is a naturally occurring clay mineral mined from the earth. Historically, manufacturers have used talc to make cosmetic products such as makeup, talcum powder, and baby powder. Talc absorbs moisture and prevents diaper rash.

Many talc mines also contain the carcinogen asbestos, a damaging fibrous mineral that has been linked to deadly diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Today, asbestos is heavily regulated within the United States, but it has not been entirely banned.

While asbestos-containing talc is typically acknowledged within industrial applications, there has been great controversy over whether it’s also used in food-grade and cosmetic talc, like baby powder.

“Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled.”
— The American Cancer Society

Does Johnson’s Baby Powder® Contain Asbestos?

Recently, a series of lawsuits and reports have connected the talc in Johnson & Johnson baby powder to asbestos. The pharmaceutical giant, which is the world’s most famous supplier of baby powder, sold baby powder under the brand name Johnson’s Baby Powder®.

A 2018 Reuters investigative report broke down the timeline using officially released documents from the company.

According to the investigative report:

  1. In 1957, trace amounts of asbestos fibers were found in samples of talc from Johnson & Johnson’s Italian supplier.
  2. In the mid-1960s, talc from Vermont mines owned by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary was also found to contain traces of asbestos. Sample tests continued to find small amounts of talc through the 1970s.
  3. Instead of reporting all findings, Johnson & Johnson only submitted select studies to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the mid-1970s. The company emphasized studies that fit its agenda and claimed that its talc products contained no asbestos.
  4. The company even used its influence to craft its own studies in the mid-1970s—in which it told researchers what results it wanted.
  5. The company also tried to influence government studies by having its subsidiaries act as advisers.
  6. Studies continued to find trace amounts of asbestos in the company’s baby powder through the early 2000s, when the company started sourcing its talc from China.

The company disputes the claims in the Reuters investigative report.

Asbestos in Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder 2022 Update

Despite the many victims who developed cancer after using the company’s talc-based powder for years, Johnson & Johnson continues to deny that its products cause any harm. However, the company recently made a noteworthy decision about the sale of one of its products.

In 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would no longer sell its iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States and Canada.

The corporation made this decision after a flurry of lawsuits shone a spotlight on the link between asbestos in talc-based products and different types of cancer. The concerned public stopped buying Johnson’s Baby Powder in response.

In other news, several mainstream news outlets reported in the summer of 2022 that Johnson & Johnson claimed it would stop producing its talc-based baby powder by 2023 and replace the main ingredient with cornstarch.

Lawsuits Against Johnson & Johnson

On the legal front, Johnson & Johnson is currently facing lawsuits from tens of thousands of people who claim that the company’s talc-based products contained asbestos and caused them to develop cancer.

To date, Johnson & Johnson has paid out billions of dollars in baby powder settlements and jury verdicts. However, the consumer product giant has filed appeals in many cases in which juries have awarded plaintiffs millions and even billions of dollars against it.

The plaintiffs in some of the lawsuits allege that they developed mesothelioma after years of using Johnson’s Baby Powder on their children and sometimes themselves. Thousands of women said they had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after long-term use of the company’s baby powder and other talc-based body powders such as Shower to Shower.

Did You Know?

Johnson & Johnson, in a 1985 New York Times Magazine interview, said 70% of its baby powder is used by adults.

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Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Baby Powder?

Over the years, asbestos-contaminated baby powder has placed millions of Americans at risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Individuals likely to be exposed to asbestos in baby powder include:

  • Adults who used baby powder as part of their hygiene routine
  • Parents and other caregivers who sprinkled baby powder on children
  • People who were powdered with baby powder when they were children
  • Talc miners
  • Workers involved in the manufacture of baby powder

Workers who mined talc are at risk of asbestos exposure as are people who worked at facilities where talc was processed and turned into consumer products. This is especially true if workers lacked proper safety gear or occupational safety regulations were ignored.

In 2021, 490,000 tons of talc was mined in three states: Montana, Texas, and Vermont.

When parents used a talc-based baby powder on a baby or even on themselves, everyone in the vicinity was potentially at risk. Even a small sprinkle could cause talc to be dispersed into the air. If the talc was contaminated with asbestos, people could inhale or swallow tiny asbestos fibers and get sick years later.

Many other talc product manufacturers and sellers are facing asbestos lawsuits in addition to Johnson & Johnson.

Health Risks of Asbestos in Baby Powder

While scientists debate whether pure talc is a harmful substance when inhaled, there is no doubt that asbestos is deadly.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is caused by the accidental inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. When asbestos becomes airborne, this inhalation can occur from simple natural breathing.

A doctor reviews a chest X-ray with a patient

Inhaled asbestos fibers sometimes become lodged in the body’s natural lining, the same way a javelin gets stuck in the ground. The body doesn’t have a system for removing these types of fibers and, as a mineral, asbestos doesn’t break down well over time. Instead, the asbestos fibers remain stuck in the body indefinitely.

Trapped fibers can trigger mutations in the surrounding cells. Cellular mutation is a slow but dangerous transformation, as healthy cells turn into cancerous mesothelioma cells. It’s the nature of mesothelioma cancer cells to spread throughout the body to distant organs.

Mesothelioma is nearly impossible to detect until it is in the late stages. By then, the cancer cells are hard to destroy, resulting in a high fatality rate for victims of the disease.

Additionally, some scientists have found a link between asbestos-contaminated baby powder and ovarian cancer.

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Seeking Justice for Asbestos Exposure

It’s hard to imagine that something as innocent as baby powder could contain a cancer-causing ingredient. Unfortunately, that is the sad reality that many Americans are facing because they trusted that a product designed for babies would be safe.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness from repeat exposure to asbestos in baby powder or another talc product, our Patient Advocates can help. They can listen to your story and let you know whether you may be eligible for financial compensation.

Contact us today or call (866) 608-8933 for a free case review.

Asbestos in Baby Powder FAQs

Does baby powder cause cancer?

Possibly. Studies have shown a link between asbestos-contaminated talc baby powders and certain types of cancers, including mesothelioma. Parents who used talc-containing baby powder on their children, as well as women who used it as part of their daily hygiene routine, are especially at risk.

Keep in mind that not all talc contains asbestos. Only talc with asbestos contamination poses a health hazard to users.

Is there asbestos in baby powder?

It is possible that baby powder made using talc contains asbestos. Researchers have detected trace amounts of asbestos in talc-based baby powder and other talcum powder products.

Johnson & Johnson has stopped selling its iconic talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada. The company has been besieged by public health inquiries and tens of thousands of lawsuits in which plaintiffs allege that Johnson’s Baby Powder contained asbestos and caused them to develop mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson is currently transitioning to a baby powder made from cornstarch, an asbestos-free alternative. The company stopped selling talc-based baby powder and in the United States and Canada in 2020.

When was asbestos used in baby powder?

An investigation by the news outlet Reuters indicates that pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson knew as early as the 1970s that its talc-based baby powder was contaminated with asbestos.

Johnson & Johnson started selling its iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder since 1894.

In 2020, the company stopped selling baby powder made from talc in the United States and Canada. In 2022, it announced that it was transitioning to a cornstarch-based baby powder and planned to stop selling talc-based baby powder worldwide in 2023.

While that is good news for consumers, the damage may have already been done. More than 40,000 lawsuits accuse Johnson & Johnson of selling asbestos-tainted talc products and causing them to develop mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. The lawsuits generally allege that the company knew of the health risks connected to its products but failed to warn the public.

Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 14 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

9 References
  1. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). “Talcum Powder and Cancer.” Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/chemicals/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  2. Blumenthal, D. (1985, May 19). “Babying Grown-Ups.” Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/1985/05/19/magazine/babying-grown-ups.html. Accessed on November 21, 2022.

  3. Lovelace Jr., B. (2020, May 19). “Johnson & Johnson discontinues talc-based baby powder in US and Canada.” Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/19/johnson-johnson-discontinues-talc-based-baby-powder-in-us-and-canada.html. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  4. Reuters. “J&J Baby Powder litigation takes new focus with asbestos claims.” Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-cancer-lawsuit-analys/jj-baby-powder-litigation-takes-new-focus-with-asbestos-claims-idUSKBN1HN0FR. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  5. Reuters. “J&J defends itself in trial over baby powder asbestos claims.” Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-cancer-lawsuit/jj-defends-itself-in-trial-over-baby-powder-asbestos-claims-idUSKCN1IF320. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  6. Reuters. “J&J to end global sales of talc-based baby powder.” Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/jj-stop-selling-talc-based-baby-powder-globally-2023-2022-08-11/#. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  7. The New York Times. (2022, August 11) “Johnson & Johnson Will Discontinue Talc-Based Baby Powder Globally in 2023.” Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/11/business/johnson-and-johnson-talc-corn-starch.html. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, October 18). “Baby powder manufacturer voluntarily recalls products for asbestos.” Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/baby-powder-manufacturer-voluntarily-recalls-products-asbestos. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

  9. U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries. (2022, January.) “Talc and Pyrophyllite.” Retrieved from: https://pubs.usgs.gov/periodicals/mcs2022/mcs2022-talc.pdf. Accessed on November 18, 2022.

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