Call Now Button

Is There Asbestos in Talcum Powder? And, Why Does It Matter?

For many years, talcum powder was the gold standard for babies. It reduced rashes, stopped chafing, and made your baby smell…. Well, like a baby. But we know now that talc can contain asbestos.

Talc is the world’s softest mineral, and it is mined from the earth. Due to its softness, it has been used in many different products that we use every day. Talc itself is not harmful to humans in any way that we know, but the problem is that talc deposits often have veins of asbestos running through it. Just like gold and quartz, if you find one, you’ll find the other.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to mine talc without it being tainted by asbestos. While asbestos can be removed from talc, it can be an expensive process, which manufacturers often do not want to do- after all, what harm can a little asbestos do in your talcum or finishing powder?

Why Does Talc Contamination Matter?

Talc is everywhere. It’s in a huge number of different cosmetics, such as blush, eyeshadow, setting powders, dry shampoo, and mascara. Talc is used in cosmetics to help absorb moisture, to help the makeup stay put, to prevent caking, and to improve the feel and finish. It’s often listed as ‘cosmetic talc’ or ‘magnesium silicate’, but, it’s still just talc. Talc is also used to make pharmaceuticals, health supplements, chewing gum, and it’s also been found in crayons and even toys (think of fingerprint powder in a detective kit). And, unless stringent processes have been followed, where there’s talc, there’s asbestos.

Asbestos is not dangerous until it’s inhaled. But, when the product is a powder, it is very easily inhaled. In 2018, the FDA found that 20% of talc-based products contained asbestos. And perhaps most horrifyingly, this included makeup designed for children.

Johnson & Johnson and Asbestos

There is no way to write about asbestos in talc and not talk about J&J. Baby talcum powder was one of their core products, and from the 1950’s, they knew it contained asbestos. However, they had an agenda—sales —and so never reported their findings. They lied and crafted their own studies in the 1970’s to create the results they wanted and counteract the research showing that their talcum powder contained asbestos. Then, they tried to influence government studies by aligning their advisors within the studies.

Then in the 2010’s, a number of women, who had been using talc to ease chafing, got ovarian cancer and launched lawsuits. At last count, there has been over 12,000 individuals taking legal action against Johnson & Johnson, and they have paid billions of dollars out in payments to victims.

After multiple lawsuits and a lot of public pressure, in 2021 J&J finally announced they would no longer sell their talc based baby powder in Canada and the US, but it is still for sale in other countries.

Watch ‘Not So Pretty’ on Netflix or listen to the Verified podcast ‘Dust Up’ if you want to learn more about the beauty industry, and use of unregulated and potentially dangerous chemicals.

Studies into the link between ovarian cancer and talc used in the perineal area have been inconclusive. However, the risk from inhaling asbestos from talcum powder exists, and the link between inhaling talcum powder and developing mesothelioma seems causal. That means that using talc that contains asbestos and inhaling causes cancer. The asbestos fibres inhaled get lodged in the lungs, which triggers mutations in the cells around it, and these can turn into mesothelioma cells.

How Much Asbetos is Safe?

It’s estimated that up to 40% of New Zealand males have been exposed to asbestos. At this point, there is no known ‘safe’ level of exposure; one inhale could turn into asbestosis, while other people may work around the mineral many times without any resulting illnesses.

Just avoid it if possible. Luckily, there’s plenty of options that replace talc, and many makeup and cosmetic producers have switched. They now can use corn starch, tapioca starch, rice powder, rice starch, or lanolin. These are all products with no risk of asbestos removal contamination.

What Should You Do to Avoid Asbestos?

Read the ingredients list for your talcum powders and makeup. Avoid anything that lists talc as an ingredient, because unless it specifically states the talc has been tested and is asbestos free, there are no guarantees. Some brands such as Smashbox are 100% talc-free.

And while there’s always some new thing we should be avoiding, scientists have known that asbestos is a potential killer since the 1960’s. We know to get the experts to remove asbestos and stippled ceilings —but we’re ok using a powder on our face, or on our babies, that could have the same mineral? It’s easy to avoid, and eliminate the risk of asbestos.

More Articles

request a quote