If you apply makeup to your face every day, it’s important to know what’s in it. Not only is makeup applied to the skin, but when you use it you likely inhale dust from powder and pressed powder products. Many powder-based makeups include talc, a natural mineral that by itself is not toxic. But talc can be contaminated with asbestos, and repeated exposure to asbestos can cause serious illness.
Talcum Powder in Makeup
Talc is a mineral that can be ground into a fine powder known as talcum powder. It is used alone as a hygiene product to absorb moisture and reduce friction. Talcum powder is also used in powdered makeup products for those same qualities. It gives eye shadow, face powder, and other types of makeup a smooth texture and prevents caking, acts as a filler, and dilutes pigments.
Asbestos in Talc
There is no question that talc can and often is contaminated with asbestos. Both minerals are found in the ground, often in close proximity. When miners remove talc from deposits it may bring up asbestos with it. The Personal Care Products Council adopted voluntary guidelines in the 1970s to make sure that talc used in cosmetics would be asbestos-free.
Unfortunately, these guidelines have not necessarily ensured talcum powder never contains asbestos. In 2019, several children’s makeup products were voluntarily recalled from the store Claire’s. It came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed up on a 2017 report of asbestos in children’s makeup with findings that at least three products sold at the store contained asbestos-contaminated talc.
Studies of asbestos in talcum powder have focused mostly on baby powder products. These have found evidence that talc used in personal care products does sometimes contain asbestos. The FDA has no authority to regulate these products or makeup, but it does sometimes test them and make recommendations as it did with Claire’s makeup.
Asbestos and Cancer
The issue of asbestos in makeup and other personal care products is important for health. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen. It is linked definitively with mesothelioma, an otherwise rare type of cancer that affects tissue around the lungs and is aggressive.
Asbestos is harmful because it is made up of small, sharp fibers. When inhaled or ingested these fibers get suck in tissues in the body and cause damage over time. In some people that damage triggers tumor growth.
There may also be a connection between asbestos and ovarian cancer. Several women who developed this kind of cancer after decades of using baby powder on their genitals have successfully sued the manufacturers of the products. Studies have linked the use of baby powder to ovarian cancer and have found particles of talc inside the tumors. Whether it is the talc itself or asbestos contaminants that triggered the cancer is not known.
Whether or not using makeup with talc will put you at risk for cancer is not understood. But what is known for certain is that talcum powder is in many makeup products and has been found in several cases to have at least trace amounts of asbestos.