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New FDA Asbestos Testing for Cosmetics With Talc

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on May 17, 2024

Talc is a safe, nontoxic substance that is present in many consumer goods, such as cosmetics and personal hygiene items. If the talc is contaminated with asbestos, however, these products can pose a risk of health problems for users, including an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. To help prevent cosmetics with talc from containing dangerous traces of asbestos, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be enacting stricter product testing requirements.

Which Cosmetics Contain Talc?

Talc has many uses in the cosmetics industry. Its chemical makeup makes it useful for absorbing moisture, such as sweat, as well as preventing caking and improving the feel of products. Dozens of common cosmetic products today contain talc, including:

  • Baby powder
  • Compact powder
  • Blush
  • Contouring products
  • Highlighters
  • Eyeshadow
  • Sparkly or shimmery makeup

Read the ingredients labels on the products that you buy to find out if they contain talc.

You may not realize that several everyday makeup items you have at home have this mineral – and may have traces of asbestos, as a result. 

What Is the Connection Between Talc and Asbestos?

No cosmetics company is putting asbestos in their products. However, they may not realize that the talc they are using contains asbestos. Talc has a long association with asbestos due to the close proximity that these two naturally occurring minerals have with each other in mines. Talc and asbestos can naturally form together, making it difficult for manufacturers to isolate just one without the other. 

In recent years, studies have found mounting evidence that talc-based products, such as talcum powder, can contain dangerous levels of asbestos. This may put consumers at risk of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, from using talc products. Asbestos in cosmetics is a known problem, with traces of asbestos identified in multiple products and makeup samples over the years. In 2018, for example, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund found asbestos in numerous cosmetics products sold at Claire’s stores. 

Asbestos-laden cosmetics can place consumers at risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, which can then become lodged in the body’s tissues and cause irritation and inflammation that ultimately create cancerous tumors. While exposure to asbestos in any regard can be dangerous, research suggests a special danger in applying talcum powder to the genital area. This personal care habit by women may be linked with ovarian cancer.

What Is the FDA Doing to Protect Consumers?

On January 13, 2022, the FDA released a white paper written by the Interagency Working Group on Asbestos in Consumer Products outlining scientific opinions on the testing of cosmetics that contain talc. Currently, the law does not require FDA approval or testing on cosmetic products or their ingredients. There is no standardization of this industry under the FDA. While cosmetic companies can perform their own testing, they do not have to share their test results with the FDA. Soon, however, these rules may be changing.

The whitepaper details available methods for testing talc products for asbestos. It provides a comprehensive testing regimen that is currently being used in private industry cosmetics sales. It recommends polarized light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy to accurately test samples. It also suggests the mandatory reporting of any asbestos fibers or particles similar to asbestos found in cosmetics. Finally, it identifies areas for directing research efforts to promote the analysis of asbestos in talc-containing cosmetic products. 

The whitepaper ends by recommending that the FDA participates in addressing identified research needs. The FDA has stated that it is considering the scientific opinions presented in this document and is having it peer-reviewed as part of its overall effort to ensure the safety of consumers and the use of talc-containing cosmetic products. While the review process is still underway, this study could be a sign of new things to come in the standardization of asbestos testing for cosmetics. It may ultimately provide better protection for consumers against asbestos exposure and related serious illnesses.

For the latest information about asbestos in consumer products, contact a New York asbestos attorney at The Williams Law Firm, P.C.

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