Are Barbers Killing Black Men?


By: Patrick G. Celestine, Esq. (Twitter: @PatrickC_Esq)

“[A barbershop] It’s one of the few places where African-American men gather and do not feel threatened as black men.”

– Melvin Murphy 

As an individual who avidly and frequently seeks the professional services of a barber, I find this to be a peculiar question that I recently found myself asking. As a black man who works in an extremely public facing professional environment, I often find myself getting my haircut AT LEAST once a week. More recently during a visit to my barber I realized that after finishing up my hair, he lightly dusted my head and face with a white powder. This didn’t strike me as anything new; After all, I’ve been getting my haircut almost all my life. On this particular day I happened to look at the bottle of powder and there on the label of the Pinaud Clubman Powder read: “Finest Talc.” Immediately when I read the label my heart sank; all I could think about was the potential exposure to the harmful effects of talc. 

How many times had I seen this same green bottle of powder? How many times had it been used on me and I had never questioned its origins or its safety? Better yet, how many times does my barber use this powder and consistently put his health in danger?

Up until recently, I like many other American consumers believed that the cosmetic products that are on the market are safe for consumption. As an advocate for justice who specializes in the area of toxic chemicals, I have come to learn that the cosmetic industry is totally self-regulated. This is the reason why: despite the fact that talc is linked to cancer, my barber and so many other black barbers are still able to purchase this product at their local beauty supply store. As I was in the chair with my barber finishing up my haircut, I couldn’t help but think how inhaling an asbestos contaminated talc particle could easily lead to mesothelioma. An almost incurable type of cancer, all because of my barber’s reliance on talc. 

SO, WHAT IS TALC? Talc (Talcum powder) is the loose form of a mineral found in clay that is mined from underground deposits. Talc is most commonly used in cosmetic products such as lipstick, mascara, face powder, blush, eyeshadow, foundation, and even children’s makeup; it is also typically the primary ingredient in baby power. Talc has no health benefits, but instead can be detrimental to human health. Cornstarch based products have also been proven to be a good and safe low-cost alternative to cosmetic talcum powder. For decades data has existed that suggests that the usage of talc creates an increased risk of several types of cancer including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. This information has only recently been made available to the public. The reason for this is that talc co-exists with asbestos and as a result almost always becomes contaminated with the asbestos. Asbestos is a deadly carcinogen which leads to several types of cancer. 

In the last few years, after decades of inaction by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more than 15,000 individuals have filed claims in state and federal courts across the nation charging that Johnson & Johnson and several other companies that sell talc-based products failed for decades to warn that their products could cause cancer. In addition to Johnson & Johnson, several other brands of talcum powder have been linked to cancer including Gold Bond Medicated Powder, Clubman Pinaud Talc, Shower to Shower, Nivea Pure Talc, and McKesson Baby Powder.

After going home and doing some research, I found that talc powder has been used by barbers for over 200 years! One website even said that “most barbershops use Pinaud talc as tradition for its classic barbershop smell.” Talc is most often used to absorb moisture and oil to keep skin dry and cool the skin after a shave. I was able to find out that Clubman-Pinaud is one of the oldest brands of talcum powder and it may have been contaminated with asbestos before 1976. In 2016, a jury awarded $18 million to a man with mesothelioma from exposure to Clubman and other aftershave talc products in barbershops. This leads me to ask these questions: How many men have died as a result of mesothelioma unknowingly linked to barbershop talc? How can I bring awareness to this issue? Are barbers unknowingly harming and/or killing themselves and others?

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year. The overall survival rate is 5 years after diagnosis. The overall 5-year survival rate for people with mesothelioma is only 10% because it is usually diagnosed at a late stage. Although barbers have been using talc for over two centuries, new science has shown that it is not a safe option for consumers.  An article by Michelle Llamas for Drug watch list 7 safe alternatives to talcum powder that don’t cause cancer, which include: Cornstarch, Baking Soda, Tapioca Starch, Arrowroot Starch, Kaolin Clay, Rice Starch, and Oat flour. As the science progresses, it is also important for cosmetic professionals to progress. In the current climate, with the constant and systematic attack on the lives of black men; to protect the health and safety of themselves and their clients, it is important for barbers to transition from talc to safer alternatives.

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About Patrick Celestine, Esq.

Patrick Celestine, Esq. is an attorney, policy advocate, and justice seeker. As a black male millennial, he uses his voice to share awareness about topics that are essential to our communities. Be sure to follow the website to catch Patrick’s upcoming pieces on!





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