Many cosmetic and personal care products contain talc, which has been linked to cancer. Here’s how you can protect yourself. Action Alert!
Recently, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling talc-based baby powder globally; following a 2020 decision by the company to stop selling these products in the US and Canada. This stems from thousands of people suing J&J, alleging that their talc-based powder products caused cancer. The fact is that many other cosmetic and personal care products contain talc, so consumers need to be on their guard if they want to avoid exposure to this substance.
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral containing magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Talcum powder is commonly used in cosmetics. The issue is that, in its natural state, talc is often found near asbestos, a mineral that is known to cause lung cancer. When talc is mined near asbestos, there is a risk that the talcum powder that is produced is contaminated with asbestos. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Documents from the numerous lawsuits against J&J have revealed that the company knew for decades that it’s talc was, at times, contaminated with asbestos but covered it up and did not disclose the results of its testing to regulators or the public. The company has gotten hammered in the courts; the biggest award so far was a $4.7 billion verdict awarded to 22 women who developed ovarian cancer after using baby powder products for many years.
The Environmental Working Group reports that more than 2,000 products contain talc. We don’t know how many of these products could be contaminated with asbestos, because the FDA does not require pre-market testing of cosmetics or ask companies to submit their results—it is, however, a violation of federal law for cosmetics to contain asbestos or other adulterants. Some talc suppliers screen voluntarily for asbestos but use methods that are not sensitive enough to do a good job of detecting the cancerous substance. The FDA has done two of its own tests, one in 2019 and one in 2021. The 2019 test found that 9 out of 51 cosmetics contained asbestos; in 2021, asbestos was not detected in any of the 50 samples.
The cancer risk seems to be greatest with talc products that have the potential to be inhaled or applied to the genital area; it only takes one asbestos fiber getting lodged into the lungs to cause mesothelioma decades later. The amount of talc in different products varies. Some face powders contain up to 100 percent talc, whereas aerosol makeup bases can be up to 35 percent talc.
Talc isn’t the only toxic concern with makeup and personal care products. We’ve reported previously on the presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in makeup and how diapers and menstrual pads tested positive for phthalates and volatile organic compounds. We’ve noted that makeup is absorbed through the skin, and chemicals absorbed through the skin directly enter the bloodstream.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your children. Avoid talc-containing products altogether; look for cream-based blushers and eye shadow. Be very wary of toy makeup kits, as they often contain cheap and hazardous ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has a huge database of personal care products and information on their relative safety or danger.
There are also a slew of bills in Congress to make cosmetics and personal care products safer. HR 8724 establishes research programs to assess the risks posed by the presence of dioxins, phthalates, pesticides, chemical fragrances, and other components of menstrual products and intimate care products; S.2047/HR 3990 would ban toxic PFAS chemicals from being used in cosmetics; HR 5537 would ban eleven of the most toxic chemicals used in cosmetics; HR 5548 requires the disclosure of unlabeled and often toxic chemicals in personal care products.
Action Alert! Support bills that make cosmetics safer. Please send your message immediately.