Talcum powder is a common ingredient in a number of cosmetic products, feminine hygiene products, and other personal hygiene products, most famously baby powder. It absorbs moisture, controls odor, and makes products smoother, reducing friction to make people more comfortable. Unfortunately, this useful product and ingredient has been found to be linked to cases of cancer, most notably ovarian cancer, but also mesothelioma.
The talcum powder and mesothelioma connection is likely related to contaminating asbestos in the mineral talc, which makes up talcum powder. Cosmetic-grade talcum powder is supposed to be totally free of asbestos, but whether or not it really is remains to be seen. Lawsuits have been filed against companies that make these products over instances of mesothelioma and more may be on the horizon.
Talcum Powder and Its Uses
Talcum powder comes from a mineral that is mined out of the ground, called talc. Talc is a hydrated magnesium silicate and when it comes out of the mine it does not look like talcum powder. To create the powder, the mineral has to be crushed into fine particles. This fine powder has a lot of desirable properties for cosmetics and hygiene: it absorbs moisture well, controls odor, and reduces friction.
Talcum powder can be found in a number of products. In make-up it is used to make powdered eye shadows and other products silkier and absorbable. In menstrual pads and incontinence pads, it is used to absorb moisture and reduce odor. In products like baby powder, body powder, foot powder, and others, talcum powder is the main ingredient. These are used to absorb moisture, to reduce friction and soothe rashes, and to control odors and increase comfort and coolness.
Talcum Powder and Asbestos
As a naturally-occurring mineral, talc is often contaminated with other substances. Asbestos is also a natural mineral and it is similar to talc. Crystals of these two minerals often grow in the same area. Talc mined directly from the earth often has asbestos in it, but since 1976, cosmetic-grade talcum powder has supposedly been asbestos free. Manufacturing processes are supposed to remove asbestos from the talc. In some lawsuits in which plaintiffs developed cancer after using talcum powder products, claims have been made that not all of the asbestos was eliminated from the talc, putting consumers at risk.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring group of minerals made of silicates, similar to talc. People have been using this mineral for multiple purposes for thousands of years because of its unique properties. Asbestos is an insulator; it resists fire, heat, and many chemicals; it absorbs sound; and it is strong. In modern times asbestos has been used for building insulation, in fireproofing, in roofing, in shipbuilding, and to absorb sound, among many other uses.
By the late 1970s, asbestos was regulated in many situations because of the discovery of how dangerous inhalation of its fibers could be. Many U.S. agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have listed asbestos as a human carcinogen, which means it causes cancer. It can cause asbestos-related lung cancer and a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines most internal organs. Although it is rare, this type of cancer is aggressive and often fatal. Cases caught early can be survivable, but many people die from this cancer. Asbestos fibers most often caused pleural mesothelioma, the cancer of the mesothelium that lines the lungs. Signs of this type of cancer include painful coughs, lumps under the skin on the chest, chest pain, especially under the rib cage, shortness of breath, and unusual weight loss.
Talcum Powder May Have Caused Cases of Mesothelioma
In terms of cancer, talcum powder is mostly associated with ovarian cancer in women who used these products for feminine hygiene. Multiple studies showed that there is a connection and at least a small increased risk that using talcum powder in this way may cause ovarian cancer. The research into mesothelioma caused by talcum powder is more limited.
One study from 2014 found that a particular brand of talcum powder contained asbestos and that during the typical application of that powder, fibers of asbestos were released and users inhaled them. Knowing that asbestos inhalation causes mesothelioma, and that this particular type of talcum powder contained inhalable asbestos fibers, a connection between talcum powder and mesothelioma could clearly be made.
Although the study did not name the brand of talcum powder, it has been reported that the researchers were investigating a Colgate product called Cashmere Bouquet, and it did determine that the products tested were sourced from three specific talc mines. Each of these mines was found to have asbestos. While many talcum powder products may be free of asbestos, this study demonstrates that contamination is possible, and that it can cause mesothelioma in users.
Colgate-Palmolive’s talcum powder product was previously found in laboratory tests to contain asbestos. These results were found in the 1970s but the company strongly disputed them. The more recent study investigated 50 containers of Cashmere Bouquet to find the same disturbing results, nearly fifty years later.
Colgate-Palmolive has fought against the accusations that its product contained any significant amount of asbestos that could cause mesothelioma, but a jury decided that the company was in fact negligent. In a court case in 2015, a jury awarded a plaintiff $12.4 million because she suffered mesothelioma after using Cashmere Bouquet. Several other lawsuits against the company are pending.
More cases are expected to be filed and probably won in favor of plaintiffs in the future. This first trial demonstrates that juries see that consumers were harmed by Cashmere Bouquet and that Colgate-Palmolive was lax in making sure that the talc it sourced for the product was safe and free of asbestos contamination. Mesothelioma is a terrible type of cancer, aggressive, deadly, and painful. No one should have to suffer this rare type of cancer, especially not from using a consumer product that should never have contained asbestos.
If you have suffered because of talcum powder products, or someone you love is struggling from or died because of mesothelioma, talcum powder contaminated with asbestos may be the culprit. You can join the cases that are proving companies have not been careful enough and have caused many people to suffer because of cancer.