Written By: Michelle Whitmer,
Last modified: October 11, 2021
Quick Facts
  • Years Produced:
    1800s – Today
  • Places Used:
    Personal hygiene products, cosmetics and industrial products
  • Toxicity:
  • Asbestos Use Banned:
  • Friable:

Talc and Asbestos

Asbestos-contaminated talc products can cause asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma. Because talc and asbestos can sometimes naturally form together, some consumer and industrial products have contained dangerous asbestos-contaminated talcum powder as a result.

Not every talc deposit is contaminated with asbestos. The ones that are contaminated tend to contain highly carcinogenic tremolite or anthophyllite. They are considered more carcinogenic than chrysotile, the most-used type of asbestos.

Finely crushed talcum powder is valued for its ability to absorb moisture and provide lubrication at the same time. People have used talcum powder products to dry, protect and perfume their skin for more than a century. Industrial talc is used in the production of ceramics, plastics, paper, roofing, flooring and rubber. But in modern times, controversies over talc’s safety have marred its reputation. The most widely used consumer talc product is talcum powder, and questions over its safety led a division of the World Health Organization to classify perineal (genital) use of talc as possibly carcinogenic to humans. It also classified asbestos-contaminated talc as definitely carcinogenic to humans.

Who Is At Risk of Contaminated Talc Exposure?

Children, adult consumers and workers in certain industries are at risk of exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.

Tests as recent as 2018 and as far back as 2000 have revealed asbestos-contaminated talcum powder in children’s toys and makeup. Contaminated toys have included crayons, modeling clay and amateur crime lab kits. Contaminated children’s makeup was sold at Justice and Claire’s stores.

Adult consumers are at risk of exposure to contaminated talcum powder through cosmetics and personal care products including makeup, body powders and shaving products.

Workers in ceramics, pottery, paint-making, talc mining and milling are at risk of exposure to industrial-grade talcum powder. Hairdressers, barbers and their family members are at risk of exposure to cosmetic-grade talcum powder.

Risk of developing mesothelioma increases with continued exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder. For example, lifelong use of contaminated talcum powder and working a lifelong career in an at-risk job increases the likelihood of developing mesothelioma.

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Johnson & Johnson’s Asbestos-Contaminated Baby Powder

In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling its talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada in favor of a cornstarch-based version because of a decline in sales and “misinformation” around the safety of the product. The company said international sales of talc-based baby powder would continue because demand remained high.

The announcement followed reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019 about asbestos contamination in a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder that forced the company to issue a recall of the batch associated with the bottle.

Asbestos lawsuits from Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder have cost the company billions in settlements and jury verdicts. J&J is reportedly considering the creation of a subsidiary to absorb its talc liabilities. The subsidiary would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy and establish a plan to settle current and future talc lawsuits, much like asbestos manufacturers use bankruptcy proceedings to create asbestos trust funds.

J&J settled roughly a thousand talc lawsuits in October 2020 for more than $100 million. The company was ordered by the Missouri Court of Appeals in June 2020 to pay $2.1 billion to 22 women who claimed Johnson’s Baby Powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The company has paid out millions in individual lawsuits, including $325 million in 2019 to Donna Olsen, who claimed she developed mesothelioma by using Johnson’s Baby Powder.

Talc Products Containing Asbestos

Asbestos-contaminated talc products have included personal hygiene products such as talcum powder and baby powder; cosmetics, including makeup; and industrial talc products such as raw talc used to thicken paint. Contamination of these products with asbestos has ranged from traces in cosmetics to significant amounts reaching 50% and higher in industrial products.

Companies that supplied, distributed or manufactured contaminated talc products include:

  • Beauty Plus Global Inc.
  • Chanel
  • Claire’s
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • Imerys Talc America Inc.
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Justice
  • Shulton Co. (now owned by Procter & Gamble)
  • Vanderbilt Minerals
  • Whittaker, Clark & Daniels

Companies began selling talcum powder in the late 1800s to prevent and alleviate 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 1894.

Talcum Powder and Baby Powder

johnsons baby powder
Johnson & Johnson is facing lawsuits over asbestos contamination in its baby powder.

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% to as much as 20%, depending on the brand.

Since then, other brands of talcum powder and baby powder have tested positive for asbestos.

Talcum powder brands associated with past asbestos contamination have included:

  • Johnson’s Baby Powder
  • Old Spice After Shave Talc
  • Chanel No. 5 After Bath Powder
  • Mennen Shave Talc
  • Yardley Invisible Talc and Black Label

Cosmetic Talc Products

Talc used in cosmetics also has a history of asbestos contamination. Several cases of contamination have involved children’s makeup sold by national retailers Justice and Claire’s.

In addition to talcum powder, cosmetic-grade talc is used in many different cosmetic products, including foundation, creams and moisturizers, eye shadow, blush and mascara. Cosmetic-grade talc is approximately 98% pure talc.

Asbestos in makeup only recently became a public concern. The issue of asbestos in talcum powder has been known since the 1970s.

Talc-containing cosmetics that tested positive for asbestos have included:

  • Beauty Glazed Gorgeous Me Eye Shadow Tray Palette
  • City Color Cosmetics Timeless Beauty Palette
  • Claire’s Rainbow Glitter Heart Shaped Makeup Set
  • Claire’s Pink Glitter Palette with Eyeshadow & Lip Gloss
  • JoJo Siwa Makeup Set
  • Justice Just Shine Shimmer Powder

Industrial Talc Products

Industrial talc is used in a variety of industries to manufacture many modern products.

Industrial painter in white protective gear
Industrial talc is used in many applications, including powder coatings.

The agricultural industry uses it as an anti-caking agent in animal feed. The ceramics industry uses it to make ceramic tiles, artware and finishing glazes. Industrial talc is added to coatings such as paint and glazes to improve texture and enhance matting and paint adhesion. Talc is used in the paper industry to improve printability and reduce surface friction. The plastics and rubber industries use talc as filler and to improve molding ability. Industrial talc is even used in wastewater treatment plants to purify water.

Industrial-grade talc contains a variety of other minerals in varying quantities, depending upon the geologic source. For example, the industrial talc product known as Nytal 100, which was used in ceramics, contains 30% talc, 40% tremolite, 20% serpentine and 10% anthophyllite asbestos.

Vanderbilt Minerals produced Nytal, which was used by many industries to make a variety of products including pottery, ceramic wall tiles and artware. Vanderbilt stopped selling Nytal in 2008 because of the asbestos contamination controversy. It also shut down its talc mining operations in New York in 2008. Several courts have held Vanderbilt liable for cases of mesothelioma that developed among people who worked with Nytal.

Industrial talc is incorporated into many different products, including:

  • Clay
  • Pottery
  • Ceramic tiles
  • Crayons
  • Chalk
  • Electrical switchboards
  • Electric cables
  • Paper
  • Ink
  • Sinks
  • Toilets
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic automotive parts
  • Rubber sealants and gaskets
  • Jointing compounds, putties and adhesives
  • Household appliances such as stoves, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers

Contaminated Talc Products and Mesothelioma

Anthophyllite Asbestos Mineral Specimen
Anthophyllite asbestos contaminates some talc deposits.

Current research shows talcum powder that is contaminated with asbestos can cause mesothelioma. A decades-long latency period of 20 to 50 years is associated with the condition. Symptoms of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, chest pain, abdominal pain and fatigue. Diagnosing the disease involves imaging scans, blood tests and biopsy procedures.

Research on contaminated talc has shown its potential to cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases:

  • A 2021 review of the inhalation toxicity of talc reported excess cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer among talc miners and millers, as well as excess cases of mesothelioma and asbestosis in metal casting workers using asbestos-contaminated talc. 
  • In 2019, a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine presented case studies of 33 people with mesothelioma whose only exposure to asbestos was using asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.
  • Several scientific studies have shown that mining and milling asbestos-contaminated talc causes asbestos-related diseases and talcosis, which is a pulmonary disorder like asbestosis and silicosis.
  • A 2002 exposure study published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health found excess cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lung diseases among talc miners in upstate New York. The mines involved in the study are in the counties of St. Lawrence and Jefferson, the hub of which was a town called Gouverneur, where R.T. Vanderbilt Company Inc. operated a talc mine. Researchers say the talc mines in this area contain asbestos and asbestiform minerals.

If you’re concerned that you may have been exposed to asbestos-contaminated talc, you may consider seeking the opinion of a mesothelioma specialist or a pulmonologist with experience in asbestos-related diseases. Diagnosing these conditions early and treating them with the latest therapies offers the best chance of long-term survival.

Exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder can also cause lung cancer and ovarian cancer. Exposure to pure talc does not cause mesothelioma but may cause ovarian cancer in women and possibly lung cancer in talc miners. Studies have shown excess cases of lung cancer in talc miners throughout the world, and these studies found asbestos in talc samples. People who believe their lung cancer or ovarian cancer was caused by talc exposure may file personal injury lawsuits to access compensation.

For those worried that talc products they already own may contain asbestos, the best solution is to dispose of them and replace them with talc-free products. There are no clear regulations on how to dispose of contaminated talc, but you may call your local environmental quality department to inquire about how to dispose of asbestos-contaminated materials.

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Mesothelioma Lawsuits and Talcum Powder

Multimillion-dollar verdicts have been awarded in recent talc lawsuits. Records revealed in lawsuits show that some of these manufacturers and talc suppliers, such as Vanderbilt Minerals, Imerys Talc America and Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, were aware of asbestos contamination and tried to cover it up. Imerys even blended its talc with other sources of talc to dilute the asbestos concentration.

Significant asbestos-contaminated talc verdicts include:

  • Old Spice: In May 2021, a California Superior Court jury ordered Whittaker, Clark & Daniels to pay $4.8 million to Willie McNeal Jr., who claimed he developed mesothelioma using Old Spice talcum powder for more than 20 years.In 2016, Whittaker was involved in a $18 million talc verdict awarded to Philip Depoian, who claimed he developed mesothelioma from exposure to Old Spice talcum powder and other brands used at his father’s barber shop.
  • Johnson & Johnson: J&J has paid out billions in one mass tort lawsuit and millions in individual lawsuits over asbestos contamination in its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.
  • Imerys & Vanderbilt: Imerys Talc America and Vanderbilt Minerals paid $22 million in 2017 to the estate of a man who died of mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc used to make paint.
  • Desert Flower: Whittaker, Clark & Daniels paid $16.5 million in 2017 to Florence Nemeth, who claimed she developed peritoneal mesothelioma from using Desert Flower Dusting Powder.
  • Cashmere Bouquet: Colgate-Palmolive paid $13 million in 2015 to a woman who developed mesothelioma using Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder.

Many companies sourced their talc from asbestos-contaminated mines, including sites in New York, North Carolina, Alabama, Vermont and northern Italy. Some of the products sold in the U.S. that tested positive for asbestos, including children’s makeup sold by Claire’s stores, were made in China, which has no regulations on asbestos or talc. Claire’s recalled children’s products that tested positive for asbestos in 2017 and 2018.

Compensation is available to people who develop mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder through a personal injury lawsuit. If you’ve lost a loved one to an asbestos-related disease you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Settlements resolve some of these lawsuits and others reach a resolution through a jury trial. 

Common Questions About Talcum Powder

How does asbestos get into talcum powder?

Talc and asbestos are minerals that naturally form close to one another. Some talc deposits are contaminated with asbestos, and they are difficult to separate, which is how asbestos ends up in the final product.

What products have talc in them?

Talc is common in many industrial and consumer products such as household appliances, bathroom fixtures, electric cables, automotive parts and rubber gaskets. Cosmetic-grade talc is also present in makeup, deodorant, creams and, most notably, Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

How does talcum powder cause cancer?

Asbestos in contaminated talcum powder can be inhaled while applying the product. If used on genitals, asbestos can travel inside the body. Once inside the body, asbestos fibers migrate to sensitive tissues in the chest and abdomen, slowly causing diseases such as mesothelioma cancer.

Can you sue for talc-related mesothelioma?

Talc-related mesothelioma is caused by asbestos contamination, and affected patients have the right to file an asbestos claim. A mesothelioma lawyer helps patients claim compensation to pay for medical costs and related expenses.

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