Three containers of powdery makeup CC via Wikimedia Commons

Mounting evidence: Asbestos in talc-based makeup (again)

Once again, product testing demonstrates that the risk of asbestos contamination in talc-based cosmetic products is simply too high to accept.

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Gina Werdel
Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Author: Gina Werdel

Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.S., Summa cum laude, University of Oklahoma

Gina works to advance U.S. PIRG’s Make It Toxic Free campaign. She enjoys hiking, painting and reading.

People shouldn’t have to worry that the beauty products they use every day may be contaminated with dangerous chemicals. Unfortunately, this fall, news came out (again) that talc-based makeup was contaminated with asbestos, which is known to cause cancer. This November, our partners at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that nearly 15 percent of the talc-based makeup products that they sampled contained asbestos. Once again, this shows us that people who have been using these makeup products on their bodies every day could be at risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos

This isn’t the first time asbestos has been found in talc-based makeup. In 2018, our own testing found asbestos in some makeup products sold at Claire’s, a store that primarily markets to children and teens. In 2019, the FDA confirmed our findings and found asbestos in 9 more talc-based makeup products. Clearly, it’s time for a change. 

To understand why asbestos shows up in talc products, we need to do a little digging. Talc is a mineral that is obtained by mining. Its soft and absorbent properties make it a perfect ingredient for face powder and eye-shadow. It’s a perfect ingredient, except for one big problem: it forms near asbestos in nature. Asbestos refers to a group of microscopic mineral fibers. When inhaled, asbestos damages respiratory tissue, leading to cancer and other diseases. Cosmetic companies are not purposefully adding asbestos into makeup, but asbestos can contaminate the raw talc. 

Some cosmetic companies tout that they are only using the best supplies of talc and are testing their raw materials for safety. But even if companies are testing their talc for asbestos, the testing methods in use today come with limitations because  different methods can sometimes yield different results, making it difficult to verify that a product is free from asbestos. 

Talc is not worth the risk. As more people become aware of this issue, there is  pressure  on companies to stop using talc in their products. Already, many cosmetic companies have made the responsible decision to begin transitioning to safer alternatives

No company wants to have cancer associated with its brand. Last year, Johnson & Johnson paid $100 million to settle over a thousand lawsuits from individuals who claim the company’s famous talc-based baby powder caused their cancer. Companies should learn from this example. 

Asbestos, even a tiny amount in your talc makeup, is unsafe. If you’re a consumer looking to stay healthy, watch out for talc. It’s usually found in face powder, foundation, eyeshadow, concealer and sometimes lipstick. It’s easy to check for in the ingredients list because it’s often the first or second ingredient. For more detailed information on how to avoid asbestos exposure in makeup, check out our tip guide

Companies looking to keep customers healthy should find a safer alternative to talc. The evidence is clear, and becomes clearer with every study of talc-based products. While removing talc from products is long overdue, cosmetic companies taking this small step forward have the opportunity to make a huge leap toward corporate responsibility and consumer safety. We deserve safe beauty products: we shouldn’t have to worry that something we’re putting on our bodies every day may increase our risk of cancer.

Gina Werdel
Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Author: Gina Werdel

Make It Toxic Free, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.S., Summa cum laude, University of Oklahoma

Gina works to advance U.S. PIRG’s Make It Toxic Free campaign. She enjoys hiking, painting and reading.