Asbestos in Baby Powder Explained
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
To learn more about the link between asbestos and mesothelioma cancer, get our free guide shipped overnight.
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:
- In 1957, trace amounts of asbestos fibers were found in samples of talc from Johnson & Johnson’s Italian supplier.
- 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.
- 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.
- The company even used its influence to craft its own studies in the mid-1970s—in which it told researchers what results it wanted.
- The company also tried to influence government studies by having its subsidiaries act as advisers.
- 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 2023 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.
Since then, Johnson & Johnson said 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.
In April 2023, the company said it would pay $8.9 billion to settle numerous lawsuits alleging that its baby powder and talc products caused cancer. The proposed settlement has not yet been approved.
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.
Johnson & Johnson, in a 1985 New York Times Magazine interview, said 70% of its baby powder is used by adults.
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.
Inhaled asbestos fibers sometimes become lodged in the linings of major organs. Since the body doesn’t have a system for removing these types of fibers, they can remain there indefinitely.
Trapped asbestos 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.
Request our Free Mesothelioma Guide to learn more about this cancer, its symptoms, and when to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
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.
Get Help 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 mesothelioma 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.
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.
How did baby powder get asbestos in it?
Baby powder is made from a soft mineral called talc that is mined and then processed into a powder. Talc deposits are often found near asbestos, another mineral.
When raw talc is contaminated with asbestos, it’s possible for baby powder to contain asbestos fibers.
How do you know if powder has asbestos?
It’s impossible to tell if baby powder contains asbestos by looking at it with the naked eye. Some companies can test baby powder in a lab to see if it’s contaminated with asbestos fibers.
While baby powder made from talc may contain asbestos, powder made from cornstarch does not.
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.
Is Johnson's baby powder safe now?
Johnson’s baby powder is now made with cornstarch instead of talc, which means that it is free of asbestos and safe for use.
It is sold in a white plastic bottle with a blue label and states that it is made from cornstarch.
However, older containers of the product could still contain asbestos fibers. The company switched to a cornstarch-based product globally in 2023.