Does Baby Powder Cause Mesothelioma?

Popular products like baby powder and other talc-based cosmetics have been linked to asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma.

The vast majority of mesothelioma cases are caused by workplace exposure to asbestos. But recent studies and lawsuits have linked mesothelioma to the use of baby powder and other products containing talc. In the sections that follow, we'll:

  • discuss the basics of mesothelioma
  • examine the potential link between asbestos and products like baby powder, and
  • look at a few notable cases involving plaintiffs who claim their mesothelioma was caused by use of talc products.

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a somewhat rare type of cancer that forms in the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that surrounds most internal organs in the human body. The most common types of mesothelioma involve cancers located in the:

  • lungs (pleural mesothelioma)
  • abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma)
  • heart (pericardial mesothelioma)

Roughly 90% to 95% of all mesothelioma cases involve cancer in the lungs or abdomen.

One reason mesothelioma is so deadly is that it’s often not diagnosed until the cancer reaches an advanced stage. Then there’s the fact that mesothelioma might not develop until one or two decades have passed since initial exposure to asbestos. Learn more about mesothelioma screening and treatment options.

Do Talc Products Cause Mesothelioma?

Answering this question requires a two-part analysis:

1. Does talc itself cause mesothelioma? The answer to this question is unclear. Studies attempting to pin down a link between talc-based products like baby powder and cancer have reached conflicting or inconclusive results.

2. Do certain talc products cause mesothelioma? The answer here is almost certainly “yes,” as a number of studies have found measurable traces of asbestos in samples of some (but nowhere near all) talc products, including Johnson's Baby Powder. Nationwide, thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits alleging a link between talc products and cancer, including mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.

How Does Asbestos Exposure Lead to Mesothelioma?

When an asbestos fiber finds its way into the mesothelium, it causes the mesothelial cells to inflame, which leads to scar tissue. Mesothelioma tumors begin growing in this scar tissue.

Asbestos is usually only harmful when inhaled or ingested, or otherwise absorbed into the body. When exposure occurs by breathing in asbestos, it may lead to pleural mesothelioma when the asbestos fibers make their way into the protective lining of the lungs. When ingested, the asbestos fibers can cause peritoneal mesothelioma when the fibers lead to cancer in the abdominal lining.

Why Has Asbestos Been Found In Some Baby Powder?

Baby powder is typically made with either cornstarch or talc. Cornstarch-based baby powders have not been linked to asbestos contamination. Samples of some talc-based baby powders, on the other hand, have been found to contain asbestos. This is because talc, the main ingredient in baby powder, often contains naturally-occurring asbestos.

Is Baby Powder the Only Cosmetic Product Linked to Mesothelioma?

No. Talc isn’t found only in baby powder. It’s also a common ingredient in cosmetics such as:

  • blush
  • foundation
  • blush
  • eye shadow, and
  • other cosmetic powders.

This means that consumers using these products may be exposing themselves to asbestos even if they never use baby powder.

Starting in 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversaw testing to confirm the presence of asbestos in cosmetics. 52 samples were analyzed, and nine tested positive for asbestos.

Have There Been Lawsuits Linking Baby Powder to Mesothelioma?

Yes. Here's a look at a few noteworthy verdicts in cases in which plaintiffs alleged that their mesothelioma cancers were caused by use of baby powder or other talc-based products.

March 2019: $29M Verdict for Plaintiffs

A California jury found that Johnson & Johnson was responsible for causing a woman’s mesothelioma through her use of Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products. The jury awarded the woman and her husband $29.4 million in damages.

April 2018: $117M Verdict for Plaintiff

In a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc., a New Jersey jury awarded the plaintiff $117 million in punitive and compensatory compensation for the plaintiff’s mesothelioma. The plaintiff alleged that the Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder he used contained asbestos.

October 2016: $18M Verdict for Plaintiff

A jury awarded more than $18 million to a plaintiff who alleged that his asbestos exposure came from the barbershop where his father worked, where men’s cosmetic products containing talcum powder were frequently used.

April 2015: $13M Verdict for Plaintiffs

A woman developed mesothelioma after using Colgate-Palmolive’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder. The woman and her husband successfully sued and received $13 million, $1.4 million of which was for the husband’s loss of consortium claim.

While not all cases have ended up in the plaintiffs’ favor, there are still thousands of lawsuits pending against manufacturers and suppliers of products containing talc. And in May 2020, Johnson & Johnson said it would stop selling its popular talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada.

If you think your mesothelioma may be linked to your use of baby powder or some other talc-based product, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an attorney and get an understanding of your rights and legal options. Get tips on getting help from an injury lawyer.

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