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Asbestos discovered in talc-based U.S. cosmetic products

In a recent article in the journal Environmental Health Insights, U.S. scientists from the Environmental Working Group Washington and the Scientific Analytical Institute Greensboro warn against asbestos in cosmetic products. In laboratory studies, 21 cosmetic samples containing talc were tested for asbestos – including eye shadow, foundation, blush, face, and body powders. The scientists detected asbestos fibers in 14% of the samples. One of the contaminated products is explicitly marketed for use by children. Besides, the published technical paper points out that asbestos had already been regularly found in previous analyses of makeup, baby powder, and other cosmetic items containing talc.

Why is talc used in cosmetics?

The mineral ingredient talc has been used in personal care products for decades. The mineral is a popular cosmetic ingredient for several reasons: talc is used to improve the texture and feel of products, it absorbs moisture, and it is a cost-effective filler. Because of these properties, it can be found in baby powder, body and face powders, deodorant powders, eyeliner pencils, and lipliners, among other products.

How does asbestos get into talcum powder?

The U.S. researchers attribute the fact that asbestos regularly finds its way into talcum powder to the type and locations of talc mining. For example, they say, the mineral deposits used to make the U.S. products are consistently contaminated with amphibole asbestos such as tremolite and anthophyllite.

Most recently, major cosmetics manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and Claire were in the headlines because some of their products tested positive for the carcinogenic substance.

Johnson & Johnson announced in May that it would stop selling its talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada. Thousands of people, mainly women, had already filed lawsuits against the company in recent months and years because they attributed their cancers (e.g. ovarian cancer) to the product.

Although asbestos use is also declining in the U.S., the number of mesothelioma deaths remains significant, especially among younger people. The EWG Action Fund estimated, based on an analysis of federal mortality data, that as many as 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related diseases.

Scientists call for more stringent screening methods for talcum powder

In their article, the U.S. scientists draw attention to the outdated, inadequate methods used to date by the cosmetics industry to test talc-containing products for asbestos.

They criticize the fact that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not yet required mandatory testing. They say the voluntary testing method developed by the industry is not sensitive enough for asbestos analysis and is therefore unsuitable. The scientists are calling for cosmetics manufacturers to be required to use precise methods (based on electron microscopy and standardized testing procedures) to test personal care products for asbestos.

CRB's state of knowledge on talc products containing asbestos

CRB has examined numerous talc raw materials, soapstones, and talc-containing products, including cosmetics, in the past and has regularly been able to detect asbestos fibers: usually the amphiboles tremolite and anthophyllite, rarely actinolite and chrysotile.

However, cosmetics is only a small area of use for talc. It is used as a filler in the industrial production of paper and pulp, paints and coatings, and rubber, plastic, and ceramic goods. Other applications include medicine (powder base, lubricants) and the food industry. Little known is that talc is also used as an extender for marijuana.

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