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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.



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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 contained asbestos, so some talc products may have contained that material, depending on where the talc was mined.

Asbestos-containing talc is now known to be a respiratory hazard and even pure asbestos-free talc may be hazardous as well.

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.

This article is NOT discussing the current J&J baby powder product but rather an older product that contained talc as its principal ingredient.

Current body powders such as Gold Bond® Ultimate Comfort Body Powder & Johnson & Johnson's® Baby Powders not normally contain talc. Johnson & Johnson's current baby powder is made of pure cornstarch with aloe vera and vitamin E.

The J&J company lists these current ingredients in their baby powder: Zea Mays (Corn) Starch, Tricalcium Phosphate, Fragrance (Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Tocopheryl (Vitamin E)).

Our 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.

Size of Talc Particles

Talc particles in Johnson's Baby Powder at PM10 and smaller (C) Daniel Friedman InspectApedia.com

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.

Below is an additional photograph of talc particles from this very sample in polarized light.

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

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

Below is another polarized light photo of more talc-based baby powder showing by light variations the structural planes in this material. I did not see 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.

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

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. That is why this talc is not used in current consumer products.

While current body powders avoid talc, historically talc was the main and sometimes the only ingredient in body powders used by adults as well as in baby powder. 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.

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

Photos of an older container of Johnson's Baby Powder containing Talc. [Click to enlarge any image]

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. This product is no longer sold.

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



While that conclusion has been questioned including in recent (2017) court cases, some but not all of the studies we cite below (Merritt 2008) provide important findings that suggest at the very least, prudent avoidance of the use of asbestos-containing talc.

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.'"

Research Studies on the Role of Perineal Use of Talc in Ovarian Cancer

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Continue reading at ASBESTOS LIST of PRODUCTS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see FORENSIC INVESTIGATION of BUILDINGS

Or see FORENSIC & IAQ LAB MICROSCOPE TECHNIQUES

Or see ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS

Or see ASBESTOS PRODUCTS 1959 - returns to the chapter in ASBESTOS ORIGIN & NATURE where Rosato's Table 1.7 originally appeared.

Or see ASBESTOS PRODUCING COMPANIES for a most-complete list of companies that produced products containing asbestos

Or see ASBESTOS PHOTO GUIDE to MATERIALS

Or see EPA Sample List of Asbestos Containing Materials [PDF] at InspectApedia.com

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ASBESTOS in TALCUM POWDER at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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