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EWG-Commissioned Tests Finds Cancer-Causing Asbestos in Talc-based Cosmetics

Science Review
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Earlier this year, EWG reported results of tests that found the notorious carcinogen asbestos in samples of talc-based cosmetics. EWG-commissioned tests by Scientific Analytical Institute found asbestos in three of 21 cosmetics products, including two eye shadow palettes and one toy makeup kit marketed to children. 

After we alerted parents and consumers about these hazardous products, Amazon and Ebay removed them from their websites. Now our short report on the findings has been published in Environmental Health Insights, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

EWG’s research is the latest in a growing body of scientific evidence drawing attention to the prevalence of asbestos contamination in personal care products and the lack of regulation to protect consumers from the health risks associated with this mineral. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in nine of the 52 talc-based products tested, numbers akin to our findings.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, warns there is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos. It is linked to several types of cancers, including mesothelioma and the scarring lung disease asbestosis. Talc-based cosmetics, particularly products in powdered form, can be inhaled when applied to the face, but users are often unaware of this risk.

Talc is a mineral ingredient mined from rock that can also commonly contain asbestos minerals. It is used in numerous makeup and personal care products, such as eye shadow, face powder, body powder and blush. A survey of EWG’s Skin Deep® database found more than 2,000 products contain talc, almost 60 percent of which are powders. Skin Deep is a searchable, online resource that rates more than 80,000 personal care products based on the hazards associated with their ingredients.

Although the presence of asbestos in these products is a violation of federal law, the FDA does not require pre-market testing or ask companies to submit their results. Some talc suppliers screen voluntarily for asbestos but often using methods that are not sensitive enough for adequate detection. In light of this, the FDA is currently working to develop standard cosmetic-specific methods for sensitive detection of the asbestos contamination in talc, although testing will remain voluntary.

After thousands of lawsuits claiming that its products cause cancer, Johnson & Johnson announced last spring it would end the sale of talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada.

But a largely uncharacterized hazard remains in the thousands of products on the market that contain talc. Symptoms of asbestos-triggered diseases may not show up for decades after exposure, so parents should be especially wary of early-life exposure to young children, who have developing lungs and a longer time for diseases to develop.

EWG Action Fund, the 501c(3) sister organization of EWG, estimates up to 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-triggered disease.

EWG recommends:

  • Avoiding products, particularly powders that contain talc, especially for children. Makeup in powder form can be easily inhaled into little lungs. Instead, look for cream-based blushers and eye shadow.
  • Being wary of “toy” makeup kits. They are often made with cheap and potentially hazardous ingredients, like asbestos-contaminated talc, lead and chemicals linked to serious health hazards. Use Skin Deep to help you choose makeup and other personal care products with the fewest hazardous ingredients.
 

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