Amid continuing concerns about the health risks from talcum powder, a new report suggests that at least 15% of all talc-based cosmetics may contain toxic asbestos fibers, highlighting a failure by the industry to properly screen raw ingredients.
According to findings published last week in the journal Environmental Health Insights, researchers warn that many cosmetic products on the marketing, including those specifically marketed for children, contain talc with asbestos particles in it.
The cosmetics industry is largely unregulated, and the Food and Drug Administration does not require cosmetic companies to test for asbestos in their products. The lack of regulation and inadequate testing has allowed many personal care products containing talc to be contaminated with small amounts of asbestos.
Researchers conducted a test of a small sample of powder-based cosmetic products, including blush, eye shadow, foundation and other products. They evaluated the products using electron microscopy, and at least 3 of the 21 products tested were contaminated with amphibole asbestos. Roughly 15% of products contained asbestos, including one product specifically marketed for use by children.
The study highlights the urgent need to revise cosmetics policy and to regulate talc testing for asbestos, according to the researchers.
Talc Side Effects
Talc is a mineral that has been used in baby powder and other personal care products for decades. However, it has recently been discovered that some raw ingredients may contain toxic elements, depending on where the talc is mined.
Mineral deposits used for consumer products sold in the United States have consistently been found to be contaminated with amphibole asbestos, including tremolite and anthophyllite, which are carcinogens with no known safe levels.
A survey of the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database indicated more than 2,000 personal care products containing talc were sold from 2018 to 2020. These products include eye shadow, foundation, blush, face powder, and body powder.
More than 1,000 of those involve loose or pressed powder products, which may pose an increased risk of inhaling talc. This may be especially risky if the talc contains asbestos.
The FDA recently conducted a year long investigation of cosmetic products containing talc, finding many of the products evaluated by the agency tested positive for asbestos.
The risks associated with talc-based cosmetics depend on how much asbestos the talc may contain, which is especially difficult to know, considering the FDA doesn’t require companies to test for it. Instead, the agency calls for voluntary testing.
Although U.S. law allows products to contain up to 1% of asbestos and still be considered “asbestos free,” researchers warn that it only takes one fiber of asbestos to lodge in the lungs to cause mesothelioma, which can be diagnosed decades later.
In response to growing concerns, Johnson & Johnson discontinued the use of talc-based powder in the U.S. and Canada in May 2020. The move also came as the manufacturer faces thousands of Johnsons’ Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers diagnosed with ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and other injuries that are allegedly caused by talc exposure.
The methods used by the cosmetics industry to test talc-based products need immediate correction, according to this latest report, which points out that federal law regulating the cosmetics industry has not been updated since 1938.
Although most uses of asbestos have been banned in the United States for decades, more than 15,000 Americans continue to die each year form illnesses caused by asbestos exposure, which may surface decades later.