Whenever you think of items that may pose a threat of asbestos exposure, you’re likely to call to mind construction materials. These may include insulation, cement products or vinyl floor tiles.
You probably wouldn’t think about cosmetics. The idea of applying asbestos-tainted makeup and hygiene products directly to your skin or the skin of a loved one probably sounds either appalling or far-fetched. However, there are a lot of questions surrounding the use of talc, which is used in many cosmetic items, including baby powder.
What substances are still allowed in cosmetics?
Recently, wellness columnist Gabrielle Korn, who works for the fashion news site Refinery 29, wrote an article about how only 10 substances are officially banned from the manufacturing of cosmetics in the U.S., compared to nearly 1,400 in Europe. Among the ingredients that are banned in Europe but still accepted in the U.S. are coal tar, lead, animal-tested ingredients and the pregnancy-related hormone progesterone.
Furthermore, asbestos is still technically allowed in products that contain talc. In discussing this revelation, Korn directed readers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has been dealing with questions about talc and asbestos since the 1970s.
In addition to being the main component of baby powder, talc is used in the manufacturing processes of rice, chewing gum and medication tablets.
Here’s what the agency’s website had to say about the matter:
“Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that may be found in close proximity in the earth. Unlike talc, however, asbestos is a known carcinogen. For this reason, FDA considers it unacceptable for cosmetic talc to be contaminated with asbestos.”
The FDA added that asbestos exposure from talc can be prevented by manufacturers who select their talc mines carefully and purify the ore sufficiently.
To investigate these questions further, the FDA decided to survey samples from talc suppliers between Sept. 2009 and Sept. 2010. Only four talc suppliers sent the agency samples for laboratory analyses.
Additionally, the FDA obtained some of the most common talc-containing cosmetics, including blush, eyeshadow, foundation, face powder and body powder.
None of the samples turned up positive for asbestos. While this is encouraging, it isn’t definitive for all talc suppliers and cosmetics in the U.S.
Ultimately, though, the agency hasn’t officially banned the use of talc that may be contaminated with asbestos.
More questions surround talc
Asbestos is a known carcinogen and the only proven driver of fatal diseases such as malignant mesothelioma. For these reasons, some consumers have become worried about the safety and purity of talc.
Respiratory problems aren’t the only potential health problems posed by talc. Experts from the American Cancer Society pointed out that there have been questions about a possible link between talc and ovarian cancer in women. Talc can sometimes be added to products applied to women’s genitals, such as sanitary napkins, diaphragms or condoms. Several studies have investigated whether this can lead to ovarian cancer. However, one review of 16 previous studies completed before 2003 indicated that the risk increase of this disease for talc users is 30 percent higher than it is for non-talc users. If the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for women on average is 1.4 percent, that means that talc would raise that figure to only 1.8 percent, which is still relatively small.
However, it’s perfectly understandable if you’d still be wary of using talc. If you need a substitute, the American Cancer Society suggested using products that are cornstarch-based.