A study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) — a nonprofit advocacy organization working for corporate accountability and toxic chemicals — found trace amounts of asbestos in popular talc-based cosmetics.
15% of the tested samples contained some level of asbestos, the deadly carcinogen which has no safe level exposure to humans. The analysis, which was published in the academic journal Environmental Health Insights, brings attention to this matter and the outdated methods used in the cosmetic industry to screen talc supplies for asbestos contamination.
“Many well-known brands use talc in body and facial powders that can be inhaled,” said Nneka Leiba, the vice president for Healthy Living Science at the Environmental Working Group. "It’s troubling to think of how many Americans have been using talc-based cosmetics products potentially contaminated with asbestos.”
A regulatory failure in cosmetics
EWG has identified more than 2,000 personal care products that are likely to contain talc. This includes over 1,000 products of loose and pressed powders that pose an inhalation risk.
This year, the working group reported the results of a series of tests that found asbestos in samples of talc-based cosmetic products that are extremely popular. Scientific Analytical Institute, a private laboratory testing company, was commissioned by EWG and found asbestos in products, including two eye shadow palettes and a toy makeup kit marketed to children.
“Inhaling even the tiniest amount of asbestos in talc can cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases, many years after exposure,” says Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist for the EWG and one of the authors of the study that was published this past month. "How much talc is inhaled – and how much is contaminated with asbestos – is hard to know, but it only takes one asbestos fiber, lodged in the lungs, to cause mesothelioma decades later.”
Agencies confirm asbestos findings in cosmetics
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also found asbestos in nice of some 52 tested talc-based cosmetic products that emulate the findings reached by the researchers sponsored by the EWG.
For example, the FDA confirmed the reports of asbestos being found in popular cosmetics products sold by tween and teen girl-targeted makeup retail brands Claire's and Justice. Both companies quickly removed these products after the agency's research. The exposure to asbestos through the use of these products by young women is still widely unknown.
Other federal agencies also note the risks of asbestos exposure in the workplace and consumer products. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), under the Department of Labor, found that "there is no "safe" level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber."
Asbestos exposure with durations of only a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans, OSHA said in a similar briefing.
Talc cosmetics are a cause of mesothelioma in women
Researchers published a study in 2014, via the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, that found that cosmetic talcum powder products used for decades could cause serious lung cancer and ailments in people, including women who are more likely to use cosmetics and makeup.
According to this study, exposure is a factor for the development of ovarian tumors and cysts, other gynecological tumors, and malignant mesothelioma. The researchers tested a well-known cosmetic talcum powder brand that was linked as a leading cause of mesothelioma and other cancers.
In the legal realm, doctors and litigators have argued that cosmetic talc powders sold by companies like Johnson & Johnson are responsible for ovarian cancer and mesothelioma in women all over the United States. Notably, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to settle a federal lawsuit with a group of women in Missouri who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using the company's popular talc powder products. The settlement was valued highly at over $2.1 billion.
Johnson & Johnson was also recently ordered to pay $120 million for a baby powder lawsuit involving an older woman diagnosed with mesothelioma and her husband. A judge heard the lawsuit with the New York supreme court branch in Manhattan, New York City.