Earlier this year, the EWG reported the results of tests that found the notorious carcinogen asbestos in samples of talc-based cosmetics. Tests conducted by the Institute for Scientific Analytics (EWG) found that asbestos is present in three out of 21 cosmetic products, including two eyeshadow palettes and a toy makeup kit marketed to children.
After we alerted parents and consumers about these dangerous products, Amazon and Ebay removed them from their websites. Our short report on the findings has now been published in Environmental Health InsightAnd Refereed scientific journal.
The EWG 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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in nine of the 52 talc-based products tested, numbers similar to our findings.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, warns that there is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos. It is linked to several types of cancers, including mesothelioma and scarring asbestos lung disease. Talc-containing cosmetics, especially products in powder form, can be inhaled when applied to the face, but users are often unaware of this danger.
Talc is a mineral that is extracted from rocks and can also commonly contain asbestos minerals. It is used in many makeup and personal care products, such as eye shadow, face powder, body powder, and blush. A survey of EWG’s Skin Deep® database found that more than 2,000 products contain talc, 60 percent of which are powders. Skin Deep is a searchable online resource that rates over 80,000 personal care products based on the risks associated with their ingredients.
Although the presence of asbestos in these products is a violation of federal law, the Food and Drug Administration does not require pre-market testing or require companies to provide their results. Some talc suppliers test for asbestos voluntarily but often use methods that are not sensitive enough for proper detection. In light of this, the Food and Drug Administration is currently developing standard cosmetic methods for sensitive detection of asbestos contamination in talc, although testing will remain voluntary.
After thousands of lawsuits alleging that its products cause cancer, Johnson & Johnson announced last spring that it would end the sale of baby powder containing talc in the United States and Canada.
But a largely uncharacteristic risk remains with the thousands of products on the market that contain talc. Symptoms of diseases caused by asbestos may not appear for decades after exposure, so parents should be especially careful of early exposure to young children, who have developed lungs, and a longer time to disease development.
The EWG Action Fund, the 501c(3) sister organization of the EWG, estimates that up to 15,000 Americans die each year from disease caused by asbestos.
The EWG recommends:
- Avoid products, especially powders, that contain talc, especially for children. Powdered makeup can be easily inhaled into small lungs. Instead, go for cream blushes and eye shadows.
- Beware of “toy” cosmetic kits. They are often made with inexpensive and potentially dangerous ingredients, such as talc contaminated with asbestos, lead, and chemicals associated with serious health risks. Use Skin Deep to help you choose makeup and other personal care products that contain the fewest dangerous ingredients.