I’ve heard that certain personal care products and cosmetics brands contain talc that is harmful to women. Is this true? What makes talc harmful, and how does it end up in my products?
You’re right! Over the past few years, companies like Claire’s and Johnson & Johnson have been involved in investigations due to their talc-based products being contaminated with asbestos. Despite a few exceptions, current laws do not require the makers of cosmetics and personal care products to get FDA approval before their products go to market. Actually, companies are not even required to list their ingredients, test their products for safety, use good manufacturing practices to prevent contamination or even recall products that are known to be dangerous. Thus, many companies are able to get away with selling their asbestos-contaminated products, threatening the lives of thousands of women and girls, as exposure to asbestos kills at least 15,000 Americans every year.
Talc and asbestos are both naturally occurring minerals that form near each other in the earth. Because the two are so close, talc becomes contaminated with asbestos during the mining process. Talc is used in cosmetics and personal care products for a variety of reasons: to absorb moisture, to make facial makeup opaque or “matte,” to protect and perfume skin, and to improve the feel of a product. Talc has found its way into foundation, creams and moisturizers, eye shadow, blush, mascara, lipstick, even deodorant. Talc itself becomes dangerous when contaminated with asbestos. Due to the lack of regulation on asbestos-contaminated talc in cosmetic and personal care products as well as the lack of research on what constitutes a safe level of asbestos, the hazardous mineral is free to roam in your products.
Products that are contaminated with asbestos are hazardous, putting the lives of women, especially Black women, at risk. A 2016 University of Virginia study found that Black women who regularly used talcum powder were 40 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer. Such information is relatively new, as most studies on the dangers of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder consisted mainly of white women. Furthermore, the development of mesothelioma has been linked not to talc alone, but specifically to asbestos-contaminated talc.
The NWHN condemns the use of asbestos-contaminated talc in cosmetics and personal care products and considers this a central priority, which is why the Network does not support the lackluster Ban Asbestos Now Act (“Ban Asbestos Bill”), introduced by Representative Suzanne Bonamici in March of 2019. The Act scarcely strays from the message implied in its title. At first glance, the Act seems to read as though it bans asbestos. Yet, the current definition of asbestos in the “Asbestos Ban Bill” does not protect women and girls from asbestos-contaminated talc powder. The Act also fails to hold companies accountable for their asbestos-contaminated products. Ultimately, the Act would not prevent asbestos from ending up in talc, and would not adequately protect consumers from harmful exposure.
The NWHN recommends that consumers research the brands and products they are using to ensure they do not contain talc. Shea Moisture, Smashbox, and Honest Beauty are all cosmetic brands that are free of talc. This responsibility, however, should not be on consumers. We need the FDA to institute proper testing methods and regulations on cosmetics and personal care products that completely protect consumers from exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc.
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