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Asbestos in Baby Powder: What Is It and Why Should You Worry?

Should you use baby powder on your infant? Find out.

Updated
Fit
5 min read
Asbestos in Baby Powder: What Is It and Why Should You Worry?
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Snapshot

Johnson & Johnson has always been a famous household name, especially for it’s range of baby care products. But the brand has been under constant fire for a few years now.

The reason - over 12,000 women in the US have sued the company over claims that the talcum powder manufactured by them is the prime cause behind their ovarian cancer.

A recent investigation by Reuters claimed that the talcum powder was contaminated by carcinogenic asbestos, making it poisonous and life-threatening for women using it on themselves. The main allegation of the report was that Johnson & Johnson knew this all along but decided to hide it.

As per a report in Zee News, Indian drug inspectors had seized some samples of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder from a manufacturing plant in Himachal Pradesh. There is no official statement from the company yet.

So what’s confusing many people is how did asbestos get into the talc in the first place? And should you, as a parent, be worried? We find out.

Asbestos in Baby Powder: What Is It and Why Should You Worry?

  1. 1. What Is Talc? Where Did the Asbestos Come From?

    Talc is also used in food, consumer products and medicine.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, found in clay, that is mined from the soil. Being the softest mineral known to mankind, it can be crushed into white powder known as ‘talcum powder’.

    Now, asbestos is also a naturally occurring mineral found underground. Thin asbestos fibers which are soft and flexible often seep inside the talc deposits. This is how asbestos contaminates the talc mined from the soil.

    What makes the contamination even more dangerous is that talc is also widely used in cosmetics and other personal care items.

    Lipsticks, mascaras, eye shadows, face powders - all contain traces of talc. It may be called by different names such as cosmetic talc, talcum powder or magnesium silicate. It is mainly added to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve a product’s feel.

    And not only that, talc is also used in food, consumer products, medicine such as chewing gums, polished rice, crayons, children’s toys etc.

    And obviously, talc is the main component of baby powder manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, unless the pack specifically mentions ‘pure cornstarch’ on the front.

    Expand
  2. 2. So Should You Use The Baby Powder on Your Infant?

    Doctors suggest replacing talcum powder with gel or oil based ointments to prevent rashes in infants.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    Pediatricians have often advised parents not to use baby powder on infants because there was always a risk that a baby would inhale the fine particles which could lead to choking or respiratory issues or worse, lung damage.

    But yes, the doctors never mentioned asbestos as the reason.

    In a 1991 paper titled ‘Inhalation of Baby Powder: An Unappreciated Hazard’, researchers said that ‘there is little dermatological evidence for using non-medicated powders in routine skin of infants’ and that health workers should ‘discourage routine use of talcum powder’. It also mentioned that ‘barrier creams were more appropriate for the area covered by the nappy’.

    Doctors suggest replacing talcum powder with gel or oil based ointments to prevent rashes in infants.

    Talc containing cornstarch can be used by adults who use talcum powders to avoid smelly armpits or to keep their genital area dry.

    Expand
  3. 3. But Why Are Women Suing a Baby Product?

    Hundreds of lawsuits from women have claimed that regularly applying products like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower to their genitals has caused ovarian cancer.

    Around 11,700 plaintiffs have accused the company’s talc of causing their cancer, while since as early as 1972, different tests by labs had already found asbestos in the talc, information that the company hid from the FDA.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Does Johnson & Johnson Have to Say?

    The baby-product manufacturer continues to deny all claims.
    (Photo courtesy: iStockphoto)

    From at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.

    But the baby-product manufacturer continues to deny all claims.

    As reported by Chicago Tribune, the company attorneys told Reuters that the results that revealed the presence of asbestos were actually from the talc batches meant for industrial uses, not for baby powder.

    Thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos.
    Johnson & Johnson
    Expand
  5. 5. What Does the Medical Community Say?

    Ovarian cancer is highly deadly because it is often diagnosed too late.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    The medical community hasn’t reached a consensus on talc as a possible carcinogen.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use as “possibly carcinogenic.”

    The National Toxicology Program, made up of parts of several different government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, has not fully reviewed talc.

    Speaking to Associated Press (AP), Dr Adetunji Toriola, a cancer epidemiologist at Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center in St Louis, had said that case studies indicated that women who used talc increased their chances of developing ovarian cancer by 20 to 40 percent. Ovarian cancer is highly deadly because it is often diagnosed too late.

    He had said that talc might cause inflammation, which in turn was believed to increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

    Expand
  6. 6. Why is Asbestos a Problem?

    As per WHO, all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    According to a report in CNBC, India is the biggest importer of asbestos in the world with a industry worth 2 billion dollars but more than 50 countries are petitioning for the mineral to be banned.

    Why?

    As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans.

    Exposure to asbestos, causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.

    The stats say that about 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at the workplace.

    (With inputs from AP and Reuters)

    (This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

    We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

    Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

    The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

    Expand

What Is Talc? Where Did the Asbestos Come From?

Talc is also used in food, consumer products and medicine.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, found in clay, that is mined from the soil. Being the softest mineral known to mankind, it can be crushed into white powder known as ‘talcum powder’.

Now, asbestos is also a naturally occurring mineral found underground. Thin asbestos fibers which are soft and flexible often seep inside the talc deposits. This is how asbestos contaminates the talc mined from the soil.

What makes the contamination even more dangerous is that talc is also widely used in cosmetics and other personal care items.

Lipsticks, mascaras, eye shadows, face powders - all contain traces of talc. It may be called by different names such as cosmetic talc, talcum powder or magnesium silicate. It is mainly added to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve a product’s feel.

And not only that, talc is also used in food, consumer products, medicine such as chewing gums, polished rice, crayons, children’s toys etc.

And obviously, talc is the main component of baby powder manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, unless the pack specifically mentions ‘pure cornstarch’ on the front.

ADVERTISEMENT

So Should You Use The Baby Powder on Your Infant?

Doctors suggest replacing talcum powder with gel or oil based ointments to prevent rashes in infants.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Pediatricians have often advised parents not to use baby powder on infants because there was always a risk that a baby would inhale the fine particles which could lead to choking or respiratory issues or worse, lung damage.

But yes, the doctors never mentioned asbestos as the reason.

In a 1991 paper titled ‘Inhalation of Baby Powder: An Unappreciated Hazard’, researchers said that ‘there is little dermatological evidence for using non-medicated powders in routine skin of infants’ and that health workers should ‘discourage routine use of talcum powder’. It also mentioned that ‘barrier creams were more appropriate for the area covered by the nappy’.

Doctors suggest replacing talcum powder with gel or oil based ointments to prevent rashes in infants.

Talc containing cornstarch can be used by adults who use talcum powders to avoid smelly armpits or to keep their genital area dry.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Why Are Women Suing a Baby Product?

Hundreds of lawsuits from women have claimed that regularly applying products like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower to their genitals has caused ovarian cancer.

Around 11,700 plaintiffs have accused the company’s talc of causing their cancer, while since as early as 1972, different tests by labs had already found asbestos in the talc, information that the company hid from the FDA.

ADVERTISEMENT

What Does Johnson & Johnson Have to Say?

The baby-product manufacturer continues to deny all claims.
(Photo courtesy: iStockphoto)

From at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.

But the baby-product manufacturer continues to deny all claims.

As reported by Chicago Tribune, the company attorneys told Reuters that the results that revealed the presence of asbestos were actually from the talc batches meant for industrial uses, not for baby powder.

Thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson
ADVERTISEMENT

What Does the Medical Community Say?

Ovarian cancer is highly deadly because it is often diagnosed too late.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

The medical community hasn’t reached a consensus on talc as a possible carcinogen.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use as “possibly carcinogenic.”

The National Toxicology Program, made up of parts of several different government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, has not fully reviewed talc.

Speaking to Associated Press (AP), Dr Adetunji Toriola, a cancer epidemiologist at Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center in St Louis, had said that case studies indicated that women who used talc increased their chances of developing ovarian cancer by 20 to 40 percent. Ovarian cancer is highly deadly because it is often diagnosed too late.

He had said that talc might cause inflammation, which in turn was believed to increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Why is Asbestos a Problem?

As per WHO, all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

According to a report in CNBC, India is the biggest importer of asbestos in the world with a industry worth 2 billion dollars but more than 50 countries are petitioning for the mineral to be banned.

Why?

As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans.

Exposure to asbestos, causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.

The stats say that about 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at the workplace.

(With inputs from AP and Reuters)

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

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