For ages, baby powder has been used to avoid moisture and prevent rashes. Mostly made of talc, composed of magnesium, silicon and oxygen, talcum powder is also used in a lot of beauty products like face powders. However, you may not be completely aware of the Hidden Danger in Your Talcum Powder. There has been a lot of concern about talcum powder containing asbestos, a dangerous substance known to cause cancer.
What is Asbestos?
For the uninitiated, asbestos is a soft mineral made of flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. Though this material is an effective insulator and is used in clothes, paper, construction materials like cement to make them stronger. Asbestos is also found in talcum powder and other cosmetics and when inhaled, the asbestos dust gets permanently trapped in the body causing inflammation and genetic damage.
Asbestos is a highly durable and dangerous material and was used till 1980’s for its high resistance capacity against heat, fire and sound. It’s made of millions of small fibers that are resistant to fire, sound, water and chemicals. These fibers combine to make a light a nearly indestructible material.
Though the use of asbestos has been regulated by the government it’s still not banned. This means a lot of companies are still using it. For example, traces of asbestos have been found in baby powder.
Asbestos in Talcum powder:
Tough pure talc is free from asbestos and does not show any link to cancer, Asbestos grows alongside talc and while mining, contaminates it. Though the product usually goes through stringent purification processes, trace amounts of asbestos may remain in products like baby powders and facial powders. Due to asbestos from talcum powder in cosmetic and personal hygiene products, prolonged use of these may prove dangerous.
Dangers of Asbestos in Talcum Powder:
We now know that even small traces of asbestos in talcum powder maybe dangerous. Below, we look at dangers of asbestos exposure and diseases related to it.
- Respiratory problems: Inhalation of talcum powder can lead to respiratory problems in children. Babies can easily inhale talc when it is being used on them. Symptoms of inhalation of talcum powder will include fast breathing, vomiting, convulsions and diarrhea. Inhalation of talcum powder in adults can also cause asthma and pneumonia is some adults.
- Pulmonary Talcosis: Pulmonary Talcosis is caused by the inhalation of dangerous asbestos talcum and silicates. Symptoms of talcosis consist of dry cough and chronic dyspnea. Patients may have trouble breathing or cough blood as the disease spreads. There is no cure for talcosis but its treatment relieves symptoms and prevents respiratory infections.
- Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma Cancer from Asbestos is a rare form of cancer that develops in the lungs, abdomen or heart due to prolonged exposure to high amounts of asbestos? There are different types of mesothelioma depending on which part of the body is affected. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type that effects the tissues surrounding the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs when the tissue in the abdomen is affected.
Asbestos exposure is said to be the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. When the individuals exposed to asbestos dust inhale or swallow it, the asbestos fibers settle in the stomach or lungs causing irritation. A buildup of this over prolonged periods leads to mesothelioma. The life expectancy of a patient is 12 – 24 months. Some of the symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue.
- Ovarian cancer: Prolonged use of talcum powder in the genitals is said to cause ovarian cancer. A study found that regular use of talcum on the genital area can increase the risk of ovarian cancer to 44%. There is a clear link between the long-term use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer due the presence of asbestos, a carcinogen, in talcum powder. Powder particles that travel through the vagina can increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, fatigue and abnormal mensuration.
Several women who have developed ovarian cancer and have been using Johnson's and Johnson's baby talcum powder for decades, are suing the company for selling products with asbestos contamination,
- Laryngeal cancer: Some studies suggest that talc miners were at a greater risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. Laryngeal cancer occurs when asbestos fibers get accumulated in the voice box over long periods of asbestos exposure. When combined with excessive smoking and drinking, the risk of laryngeal cancer is increased manifold.
- Lung cancer: Studies suggest that 4% of lung cancers are related to asbestos exposure. Of all asbestos related diseases, Lung cancer claims the most lives. Asbestos lung cancer is different from mesothelioma since asbestos related lung cancer develops in the linings of the lung instead of inside the lungs.
When a person inhales asbestos over long periods, the fibers accumulated in the lungs cause genetic and cellular damage, turning the cells in the lung cancerous. The risk of this cancer is high amongst smokers who have prolonged exposure to asbestos. Some of the symptoms include chest discomfort, persistent coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing.
- Other related cancers: Besides those mentioned above, cancer of the colon, pancreas, kidney, esophagus and stomach have also been related to asbestos exposure.
Who is at Risk?
Talcum powder is found in many beauty products and due to lack of talc regulations, a lot of brands selling children’s make up of talcum powder like Johnson's and Johnsons have come under the radar for selling products contaminated with asbestos. Besides cosmetics, talc is often found in various products like supplements, medicines, processed foods, polished rice and chewing gum. Since talc is often found contaminated with asbestos, products made with talc can reach many consumers.
- Babies: Primarily used to dry up the skin and prevent rashes, talcum powder has been used on babies for years. Though pure talc is safe, it becomes dangerous with even traces of asbestos. One of the main concerns with talc-based powder is its effect on the lungs if inhaled by children. Pediatrics have suggested not to use talcum powder on the child’s face as this can lead to accidental inhalation which can be fatal, resulting in talc pneumoconiosis. This disease is associated with several child-related fatalities. Instead of talc-based powders, you can use alternatives like lotions and creams for babies. However, it’s best to change their diapers frequently to prevent wet skin and rashes.
Asbestos is also found in children's make up products, most of these products are powder based. Since children have thin skin, they are more susceptible to diseases caused by these dangerous chemicals.
In 2019, FDA found traces of asbestos in Johnson's baby powder, a trusted household brand for baby products. This led to greater awareness on contaminated talcum powder and need for better testing. Over the past years, the company has been involved with many lawsuits for contaminated talcum powder leading to dangerous diseases like mesothelioma.
- Women: Talcum powder is commonly found in many make up products like blush, eye shadow or face powders. FDA found asbestos contaminants in popular makeup products of brands like Claire's and Justice. Tough talc used in make-up can absorb oil, prevent caking and give a smooth texture, talc-based make-up, especially facial powders may prove unsafe over prolonged use. Talc can create problems when inhaled, it can cause irritation to the skin if applied on open wounds causing infections.
Studies suggest that talcum powder used over prolonged periods in the genital area for hygiene purposes, led to increased risk of ovarian cancer. Use of talc in the genitals can also lead to uterine cancer in post menopause women. Studies in the past have stated that regular use of talcum powder in the sanitary pads or and genitals increased their risk of cancer three times more.
- Manufacturing workers: Though no amount of asbestos exposure is safe, those exposed to large amounts of it, over a longer period were the worst affected. Individuals working closely in the manufacturing of talcum powder are at a high risk. They work for long hours with talcum and are prone to inhaling asbestos fibers. Asbestos is accumulated in the body with every exposure and there’s no way to reverse its damage.
Since asbestos related diseases have a long latency period, taking decades to occur, most patients with asbestos related diseases are 60 years and above. Though banned today, asbestos mining in the past put miners at a very high risk of asbestos inhalation, which is the main cause for fatal diseases like mesothelioma.
- Others: Most people who have been diagnosed with asbestos related diseases have been continuously exposed to asbestos though jobs, where they are working directly with the material. These include construction workers like plumbers, electricians, carpenters and welders. Prolonged exposure to asbestos is the main cause for people developing related diseases.
The risk of asbestos related diseases is also related to the kind of exposure you have. For example, a worker exposed to asbestos in finished products such as tiles and walls are at lesser risk when compared to workers in factories where asbestos may be released in air. Since asbestos particles are air borne and travel through inhalation to cause damage to the body.
Talc Safety: A household staple for many, talcum powder has been used on babies for diaper rash and is even in your cosmetics. However, being linked to several types of cancer and respiratory disease, you can protect yourself from the dangers of talcum powder with asbestos traces by taking these preventive measures:
- Only use talcum powders that come certified as asbestos free or baby powders made of cornstarch
- While buying cosmetics, check the labels for ingredients
- Use talc alternatives for babies like rash creams or lotions
- Talc is also a common ingredient in dry shampoos, deodorants. Check the label before you buy to ensure you’re not buying talcum powder products in any form.
Regulations: The FDA team has recommended standardized testing for the presence of asbestos in talcum powder. These recommendations aim at bringing more light in the analysis on whether talcum products are contaminated with cancer causing ingredients. In 2018 FDA set up the Interagency Working Group on Asbestos in Consumer Products (IWGAC), aimed to improve consumer product safety.
The IWGAC stated that inhalation of asbestos is a safety concern and stressed on the importance of appropriate methods to detect the presence of asbestos in talcum powder, to ensure that the raw material is safe for consumer products. Due to increased awareness, several companies have voluntarily recalled their products because of the presence of asbestos. The last recall was by Johnson's and Johnson’s when FDA announced that their baby powder tested positive for asbestos.
Though there is a lot of awareness on the harmful effects of asbestos, one of the key concerns regarding its regulation is that FDA doesn’t require the manufactures of cosmetic products to use standardized testing for the presence of asbestos in talc. However, the FDA is considering recommendations on standardized testing,
Conclusion: Though talc in its pure form isn’t harmful but since it’s a mineral that grows near asbestos, traces of asbestos are often found in cosmetic products using talcum powder as an ingredient. This can be dangerous and can lead to an increased risk of several cancers and respiratory diseases. The long-term effects of asbestos exposure have been well documented and renowned companies like Johnson’s and Johnson’s are facing lawsuits for it.
Considering all the information available on asbestos contaminated talcum powder, it would be wise to avoid the use of these products and opt for safer alternatives. On that note, you need to be mindful of the products, may it be beauty or health related, so as to avoid such grave consequences. If you have developed any asbestos related disease you can receive a compensation through a lawsuit against the company, whose asbestos containing products you used for prolonged periods. However, if the company has gone bankrupt, you can still get your compensation from the asbestos trust fund.