More Oversight Needed for Cosmetics Made with Talc

EWG tells Congress: ‘No safe level of asbestos’

WASHINGTON – In testimony today before a House oversight hearing on cancer-causing chemicals in consumer goods, Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group warned that talc-based personal care products could be contaminated with asbestos and called for greater oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Recent tests by the Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in three talc-based cosmetics products sold by the national retail chain Claire’s. Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that this points to a potentially much larger problem.

“EWG has found more than 2,000 cosmetics and other personal care products that contain talc, including more than 1,000 loose powders or pressed powders that could pose a risk of being inhaled,” said Faber. “Even small amounts of asbestos in talc can cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases, many years after exposure.”

Geologically, talc and asbestos can be formed from the same parent rock. In many regions, talc deposits are contaminated with asbestos fibers. 

The 2,119 talc-based products EWG identified are included in the group’s Skin Deep® online database. Products with talc represent about one in 12 of those in the database that were on the market in the last three years.

Talc-Based Products in EWG’s Skin Deep® Database

Product form

Products with talc

Liquids, soaps and other solids


Loose powder  


Pressed powder


Aerosol spray   


Total with talc


Source: EWG, from Skin Deep consumer products database

Asbestos is one of the most dangerous substances on Earth. From federal mortality data, EWG Action Fund estimated that up to 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-triggered diseases. 

The federal government says there is no safe level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber. Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans.

It’s no secret that talc can be contaminated with asbestos. Companies have known about the risk of asbestos-contaminated talc since the 1950s. And this is not the first time asbestos has been found in talc-based products. 

In 2017, tests by the Scientific Analytical Institute detected it in other makeup products sold by Claire’s. Tests commissioned in 2015 by EWG Action Fund found asbestos in talc-based children’s toys, including crayons.

A bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders have introduced or will soon reintroduce cosmetics reform legislation that could go a long way toward fixing this problem

The proposals – authored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) – will, among other things, give the FDA new power to ensure that products are safe and free from dangerous substances like asbestos before putting them on the market.

“Chemicals and contaminants linked to cancer can be found in food, water and many other everyday products,” said Faber. “However, no category of consumer products is subject to less government oversight than cosmetics and personal care products.”

Faber’s prepared remarks delivered to the House Oversight and Reform Committee can be found here.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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