Talcum powder that has been tainted with asbestos may cause malignant mesothelioma, according to a new study.
The 33-patient case study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, may be used as ammunition to the thousands of plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against brands selling talcum-powder-based products, such as Johnson & Johnson.
Asbestos, although a naturally occurring material, is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and exposure has been linked to the development of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer with poor prognosis. It has also been linked to lung and ovarian cancers.
Talcum powder is also found in many cosmetic products, including blush and facial makeup.
Although manufacturers have pledged to use talc that is free from detectable asbestos levels, the cosmetics industry is largely unregulated. In 2018, Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson knew some of its Baby Powder products were contaminated by asbestos, but failed to report the information to regulators or the public.
In the study, co-author Jacqueline Moline and her colleagues present 33 case studies of people, primarily women, who were diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma whose primary exposure to asbestos was through the use of talcum powder.
The authors detailed six cases wherein the individuals underwent tissue testing which showed fibers consistent with the type of asbestos found in talc, but not in insulation or building supplies. Some of the individuals in the cases used products containing talc powder every day for decades.
Moline says that she hopes the study raises awareness for people who have used cosmetic talcum powder in the past, or continue to use them to this day.
“I would tell people that there is no regulation for talc, and that if there is a safer alternative then I would advise them to do that,” says Moline. “I would not recommend people use talcum powder.”