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Talc particles at 100x photographed at McCrone Research course  (C) Daniel FriedmanTalc Particles & Asbestos Content
Photos & properties of talc in body powder & baby powder

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Talc & talcum powder properties:

Description of talc used in baby powder & body powder. Photographs of talc particles in transmitted & polarized light - talc under the microscope.

Page top photograph: talc particles at 100x in polarized light, photographed by the author [DF] at McCrone Research in Chicago.

This article series provides a master list of the forms in which asbestos was used, a list of known asbestos-containing materials, and links to detailed articles about individual asbestos-containing products & materials found in buildings and in a wide range of products used in both home and industry.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Physical Properties of Talc & its Asbestos Content

Talc particles at 100x photographed at McCrone Research course  (C) Daniel FriedmanTalc or talcum is essentially a clay mineral made of hydrated magnesium silicate.

The chemical formula for talc is H2Mg3(SiO3)4 or Mg3Si4O10(OH)2. Some talc deposits also contain asbestos, so some talc products might also contain that material, depending on where the talc was mined.

Asbestos-containing talc is known to be a respiratory hazard although even pure asbestos-free talc may be hazardous as well. Some of that research is cited in this article.

Watch out: because talc was used in or on a wide variety of products and in some cases is still used in some products including cosmetics (Gordon 2014), asbestos-containing talc might be on or contained in some of those items.

However not all products containing talc contain detectable asbestos, and some other products using talc (rubber band dust) involved so little talc that in our opinion it's not likely that there is a measurable asbestos hazard from their use or presence.

Physically to the touch talc feels soft and oily; the mineral is very soft, having a Mohs scale grade of 1.

One of the earliest providers of talcum powder as a consumer product was Johnson & Johnson's® Baby Powder first marketed in 1894 by that company who was already a producer of medical products. Johnson's® Baby Powder became the progenitor of that famous company's baby products business. A US FDA study (cited below) did not detect asbestos in the company's baby powder.

Some currently-sold body powders such as Gold Bond® Ultimate Comfort Body Powder & Johnson & Johnson's® Baby Powders do not contain talc but other body and baby-powder products do use talk.

Bottom line: the fact that a product contains talc can not by itself be taken as evidence that that product contains asbestos.

The J&J company currently sells multiple powder types and brands including two types of baby powder products for which the company lists these ingredients:

Some of the company's comments about talc and about asbestos in their products are included in this article.

Watch out: OPINION: because some of them contain extremely-small particles in the 1u range or even smaller, body powders containing even asbestos-free talc might be a respiratory irritant or hazard. Be sure that you use such products with care, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Do Current Baby Powder or Body Powder Contain Talc?

Johnson's baby powder that contained talc (C) Daniel Friedman InspectApedia.com Johnson & Johnson's baby powder with talc 1996, Label Text (C) Daniel Friedman at Inspectapedia.com

[Click to enlarge any image]

Maybe. Talc is currently used in some but not all baby and body powders.

Historically talc was the main and sometimes the only ingredient in body powders used by adults as well as in baby powder.

Most older body and baby powders produced by many companies world wide were typically based on talc as the primary ingredient, often with the addition of a fragrance.

The Johnson & Johnson's baby powder shown above as well as at least one of the company's current baby powders indicate talc as the product's principal ingredient. The company, in the references we give here, maintains that the talc in its products is safe.

That company also offers Johnson's Lavender Powder, a cornstarch-based baby powder that also contains lavender and chamomile. The company's web page describing this product, one of five it describes as "baby powder" does not contain the word "baby" on the product front label but the product description refers to baby" as

"... Soothe your baby’s senses after bath time or while diapering with lavender powder. Our cornstarch baby powder with lavender & chamomile is designed to soothe and gently absorb excess moisture on baby’s skin, leaving it dry, fresh and smooth. " - J&J Lavender powder information retrieved 2018/07/15, original source: https://www.johnsonsbaby.com/baby-products/johnsons-lavender-baby-powder?upcean=381370030171

Talc's properties that made it an excellent lubricant also made it a successful body powder as we seen this product from Johnson & Johnson from 1996.

According to the American Cancer Society talc was removed from commercial talc products in the 1970's. Just what is the scope of "commercial products" is unclear.

Does Talc Necessarily Contain Asbestos?

Whether or not talc contains abestos depends principally on the mine from which talc was obtained. Some talc deposits also include naturally-occurring asbestos.

Maybe: or Sometimes, as a common impurity. Often not.

The U.S. FDA's own independent study of the occurrence of asbestos in talc did not detect asbestos in Johnson's Baby Powder. (US FDA information retrieved 2018/07/15 and cited below.)

Here is a screen shot of Johnson & Johnson's information about talc. [Click to enlarge any image]

J&J Talc in Baby Powder 2018 at InspectApedia.com

At a "facts about talc" link in the company's Talc citation the company explains:

The testing methodology used to detect asbestos in cosmetic grade talcum powder was developed by the Personal Care Products, formerly known as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), Inc., in 1976 and is still used and accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The methodology we use for testing Johnson’s Baby Powder exceeds the CFTA industry standard. - source: The Facts on Talcum Powder Safety, web page, retrieved 2018/07/15, original source: http://www.factsabouttalc.com/

Watch out: Even if the talc powder contained no asbestos, the talc itself might be a respiratory health hazard, in part because of its very small particle size. Particles down in the micron range are inhaled very deeply into the lung and are difficult to expel.

There could be another talc hazard: according to a some scholarly studies by experts cited below, talcum powder might cause cancer in the ovaries, particularly if the powder applied to the genital area moves through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary.

Photos above and just below show an older container of Johnson's Baby Powder containing Talc. This older J&J Talc-containing baby powder was purchased in New York before 2015 and contains talc along with the product and production codes shown below.

We have no translation of that into a product date but we note that the product label refers the user to the company's website and also provides a consumer information telephone number.

Johnson & Johnson's baby powder - older product - containing talc (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com Johnson & Johnson's baby powder - older product - containing talc (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com

[Click to enlarge any image]

In our photo of the information label for Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder, (C) 1996, the text reads:

Johnson's® The Number One Choice of Hospitals

For baby, use after ever bath and diaper change, to make your baby's skin soft and smooth. JOHNSON's Baby Powder's natural softness helps prevent chafing. For you, use every day to feel soft, fresh, and comfortable.

DIRECTIONS: Shake powder into your hand and smooth onto skin. Store in a cool dry place.

WARNING: For external use only. Keep out of reach of children. Close tightly after use. Do not use on broken skin. Avoid contact with eyes. Keep powder away from child's face to avoid inhalation, which can cause breathing problems.

INGREDIENTS: TALC, FRAGRANCE

Recent Litigation Argues that Talc-containing Baby & Body Powders May be Carcinogenic

Three examples of Johnson's Baby Powder products (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com In July 2018 a Missouri circuit court jury trial awarded $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550. million in compensatory damages to 22 women and their families who had sued Johnson & Johnson Corporation for failing to warn them about the risk of cancer associated with the company's baby and body powder.

Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the plaintiffs said that Johnson & Johnson had spent years hiding evidence of abestos in some of its talc-based products and that such products should have a warning on the product label.

The Johnson & Johnson company expressed deep disappointment and said it planned to appeal the decision, calling it the verdict an effect of a fundamentally unfair process and expressing confidence that their products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer.

The company did not question the health risks associated with asbestos, but rather said that research on talc's carcinogenicity is inconclusive. - Jsu, Tiffany, "Jury Awards $4.7 Billion IN Talcum Powder Case", The New York Times, 13 July 2018, p. B6.

Really? While the conclusion that talc-containing baby and body powders has been questioned including in recent court cases, some but not all of the studies we cite below (Merritt 2008) provide important findings that suggest at the least, prudent avoidance of the use of asbestos-containing talc.

Illustrations above and below show examples of three J&J baby powder products and their label markings.

In August 2017 in the U.S. a Los Angeles jury awarded $417 million to Eva Echeverria who blamed her terminal cancer illness on Johnson's Baby Powder that she had used for decades, since the age of eleven. The case argued that J&J failed to warn consumers of the cancer risk of using its asbestos-containing baby powder. [The company's current (2017) baby powder does not contain talc - Ed.].

In October4 2017, on appeal Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson, stating that the evidence was insufficient and that the award was excessive [in an example of of self-contradicting viewpoints? - Ed.] vacated the jury's award and granted Johnson & Johnson's request for a new trial.

Also an appeals court in Missouri vacated a $72 million award in a similar case involving Jacqueline Fox of Birmingham AL. Both women died of ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson, according to The Times (cited below) stated that while ovarian cancer is a devastating disease it is not cased by the cosmetic-grade talc used in Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder for decades.

The Times also reported that "the American Cancer Society said that more studies should be done in order to determine whether today's products are safe", and that "the National Cancer Institute said that 'the weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.'"

Size of Talc Particles - possible small non-asbestos particle hazards

Talc particles in Johnson's Baby Powder at PM10 and smaller (C) Daniel Friedman InspectApedia.comOur photograph illustrates natural talc particles magnified at 100x, photographed by the author at McCrone Research in Chicago. This is the same particle magnification as shown in the page top photograph of talc particles.

What is the actual size of typical talc particles in baby powder sold in the 1990s? Talc is considered a PM10 particle.

However talc contains smaller particles down to about 1u and larger particles up to about 55u. About 80% of the particles in a talc sample will be comprised of particles from 1-20 microns, with larger particles up to about 55u making up the remaining 20%. (Cen 2007, Fig. 5).

The photograph above was made in transmitted light at 1200x using a POLAM microscope. This lab photograph shows talc particles from Johnson & Johnson's baby powder from a container whose label text was marked ©1996.

In the photo above we have magnified those Johnson's® baby powder talc particles to about 1200x, or 1200 times the actual particle size.

As we illustrate with the two red lines, the largest particle in the photo measures approximately 15u in in its longest direction and 10u in its widest cross-section.

Take a closer look at the other particles in that photo. Clearly some of the talc fragments are much smaller, down in the 1u range. There may be still-smaller particles that are below the limits of detection in light microscopy. Use of SEM or TEM may be required to detect such ultra-small particles.

While some research on small fiberglass particles argues that these very small particles are absorbed or "dissolved" by the body and may not be a health risk, other researchers such as Baan (2007) reached the opposite conclusion.

Johnson's Baby Powder Talc at 1200x in polarized light (C) Daniel Friedman InspectApedia.comBelow is an additional photograph of talc particles from this very sample in polarized light.

Watch out: very small particles, PM 2.5 and smaller, particularly at 1u and smaller, may be un-detetected in bulk, air, or dust samples and so may go un-reported.

In my OPINION this risks a failure to detect what might be important environmental exposures for some conditions. Baan (2007) notes that there can be health hazards from inhaling very small particles of talc (or its contaminants) even for talc that is asbestos-free.

The Working Group evaluated inhaled talc not containing asbestos or asbestiform fibers as not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans, Group 3.

The Working Group noted that prolonged exposure to inhaled particles at sufficiently high concentrations in experimental animals may lead to impairment of normal clearance mechanisms in the alveolar region of the lung, resulting in a continued buildup of particles that eventually leads to excessive lung burdens accompanied by chronic alveolar inflammation.

The inflammatory response may give rise to increased generation of reactive oxygen species, cell injury, cell proliferation, fibrosis, induction of mutations, and, ultimately, cancer.

Since many of these steps also occur in workers in dusty jobs, such as coal miners, data on cancer in animals obtained under conditions of impaired lung clearance were considered relevant to humans.

In addition, impaired lung clearance in rodents exposed to ultrafine particles occurs at much lower mass concentrations than with fine particles, which adds to the human relevance. (Baan 2003)

Asbestos content in talc, Possible Health Hazards of talcum powder, baby powder

I did not detect asbestos in the Johnson's Baby Powder sample that was examined in our lab. I did see the range of particle sizes we discussed above.

Below is another polarized light photo of more talc-based baby powder showing by light variations the structural planes in this material.

Johnson's Baby Powder Talc at 1200x in polarized light (C) Daniel Friedman InspectApedia.com

[Click to enlarge any image]

Watch out: Asbestos occurs naturally in some talc deposits. Talcum powder or talc that contains asbestos is generally accepted as a respiratory hazard and as capable of causing cancer if inhaled.

Where talc is used in current consumer products like baby powder or body powder or cosmetics, one might seek assurance that those products do not contain asbestos

. In fact in the U.S. an FDA test of a number of such products did not detect asbestos in them. Citations are given later in this article and also in REFERENCES.

Examples of Products Using Talc or Talcum Powder

Three examples of Johnson's Baby Powder products (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com Talc was often used both as an ingredient in other products and quite widely as a powder to prevent product materials from sticking together, such as surgical gloves or rubber bands.

Because asbestos occurs naturally in talc, any product or material that included talcum powder on on which talc was spread for any reason, might have been a vehicle for transport of asbestos into the local environment.

That hazard will not be present in products using modern talc substitutes such as corn starch. Examples of just a few of a large number of uses of talc and products on which talcum powder or talc appeared include:

Talc crystals as mined, Wikipedia ret 2018 08 17 orig. source  cited in this article

Photo: a piece of mineral talc, about 10 cm long, as mined, showing talc crystals, retriefed 2018/08/17, original source: Simple English Wikipedia, https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talc#/media/File:Talc.jpg

Really? OPINION: Compared with the extremely-high levels of airborne asbestos to which shipyard workers were exposed in the U.S. in the 1940s, many of whom later developed mesothelioma, and compared with high levels of airborne asbestos-containing dust in some industrial and commercial environments, the airborne dust level from removing a chewing gum wrapper dusted with talc that itself might contain talc as an impurity, is in our OPINION likey to be below the limits of detection.

OPINION: When opening a candy wrapper or a piece of chewing gum or using a rubber band, consumers should not panic about airborne asbestos that may be in some talc powder used on candy wrappers nor rubber bands.

It seems more-likely that such dust is below the limits of detection except in a constructed, closed lab environment.

Research on Talc & Asbestos in Talc & the Role of Perineal Use of Talc in Ovarian Cancer

Lung cancer related X-rays from Kim (2013) cited in this article at InspectApedia.com

Anthophyllite asbestos altering to talc, photo courtesy USGS, cited and used in the NIOSH article cited below at InspectApedia.com (2011)

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