What Is Talc Powder?
Talc is a soft white mineral composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Manufacturers have used talc to make talcum powder, baby powder, makeup, and other consumer products for more than 100 years. In powder form, talc absorbs moisture and keeps the skin dry.
Companies also use talc powder to make many industrial products, including plastics, ceramics, paint, paper, and roofing.
Unfortunately, in its natural form, talc can contain asbestos, a known carcinogen that can cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases. It can take 10-50 years for a person who was exposed to asbestos to develop disease symptoms.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), talc that contains asbestos is “carcinogenic to humans.”
In 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association issued guidelines stating that all talc used in U.S. cosmetic products should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos.
Unfortunately, a series of lawsuits and reports suggest that some companies continued to make and sell asbestos-tainted talc products for decades later.
To learn more about products that often contain asbestos and how you may have been exposed, download our Asbestos Products Guide.
Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Talc Powder?
Employees who worked with or around talc and consumers who regularly used talcum powder products are the most likely to have been exposed to asbestos and harmed as a result.
People who worked in these at-risk occupations face an increased risk of cancer related to talc powder:
- Chemical technicians
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Papermill workers
- Plastics workers
- Talc miners
This is especially true when workers lacked proper safety gear or employers ignored safety regulations.
Additionally, workers may have exposed family members to asbestos by bringing home asbestos fibers on their hair, skin, or work clothes. This type of asbestos exposure is known as secondary exposure or take-home exposure.
Parents and other caregivers who powdered babies with talc-based baby powder are also at risk as are adults who used talc products on themselves.
Johnson & Johnson, the nation’s leading maker of baby powder, said in a 1985 article in The New York Times Magazine that 70% of its baby powder is used by adults.
What Are the Health Risks of Talc Powder?
Researchers are actively looking into the connection between talc powder and cancer. Talc powder has been linked to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Companies that make cosmetic-grade talc powder insist that their products do not contain asbestos. However, consumers who have used talc-based body powder products for many years are becoming sick from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
A 2018 investigative report by Reuters revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew about asbestos in its talc as early as 1957.
Talc powder studies focusing on talc miners indicate that these workers have a notably higher risk of developing lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. Miners are exposed to raw talc in heavy doses.
As for asbestos-related cancers, miners are often the hardest hit by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Millions of American women have used talc-based powders as part of their daily feminine hygiene routine. Unfortunately, recent talcum powder studies have shown a link between talc use and ovarian cancer.
In 1982, a Harvard Medical School professor published the first scientific study identifying talcum powder as a risk factor for ovarian cancer.
A decade later, researchers urged companies to place warning labels on talcum powder products because of the risk to women’s health.
The IARC classifies the use of talc-based powder in the perineum (genital area) as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” This includes all talc powder — not only talc powder that contains asbestos.
Researchers have found talc particles in tumors growing on the ovaries, which suggests a link between talc and ovarian cancer.
Today, researchers continue to investigate the possible connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Some studies report an increased risk of ovarian cancer while others report no increase at all. The American Cancer Society says it is difficult to detect an increase in risk because ovarian cancer is not a common disease.
Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Lawsuits
Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been the subject of thousands of talc lawsuits related to its talc-based baby powder and body powders, including Shower to Shower.
While the company claims its products do not contain asbestos or pose other health hazards, the courts have not always agreed. The company has lost multiple lawsuits brought by women who alleged that they developed ovarian cancer after decades of using the company’s talc products.
To date, Johnson & Johnson has spent billions of dollars to settle product liability lawsuits involving its talc products and make good on jury verdicts that did not go its way.
However, the company has appealed many talc cases in which juries have found for the plaintiffs and awarded them millions or even billions of dollars.
Despite Johnson & Johnson’s denial of wrongdoing, the company has since stopped selling its iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder® in the United States and Canada. The company now sells baby powder made from cornstarch in North America and said it plans to transition to a cornstarch-based product worldwide.
Certainly, Johnson & Johnson is not the only talcum powder manufacturer to come under fire in recent months. In December 2022, a California jury awarded $50 million to a 76-year-old woman who said she developed mesothelioma from using the company’s asbestos-tainted cosmetic products.
Seeking Justice for Asbestos Exposure
If you’ve developed ovarian cancer, mesothelioma, or another asbestos-related disease after long-term use of talc-based hygiene products, our Patient Advocates can help. They are available 24/7 to listen to your story, provide resources, and let you know if you qualify for financial compensation.
Does Talcum Power Cause Cancer? FAQs
Is talc powder dangerous?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.”
New evidence suggests a possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. IARC classifies the use of talcum powder in the perineum, or genital area, as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Does talcum powder cause cancer?
Possibly, yes. Talcum powder that is contaminated with asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a deadly type of cancer that typically forms in the linings of the lungs or abdomen.
People who used asbestos-tainted baby powder or talcum powder were at risk of inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers. These fibers can become lodged in the body and lead to cancer and other diseases over time.
Additionally, new research shows a possible connection between talc and ovarian cancer.