Amazon and Ebay are the latest retailers to remove a list of asbestos-containing cosmetics from their sites after warnings from the Environmental Working Group. Asbestos can cause lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma, and other serious health issues.
The EWG says tests by Scientific Analytical Institute found asbestos-tainted talc in three of 21 cosmetic products. The asbestos–containing cosmetics include two eye shadow collections and one toy makeup kit for children.
The scientific journal Environmental Health Insights recently published the EWG’s report. It is the latest in a growing body of research on the prevalence of asbestos contamination in personal care products.
Asbestos Contamination in Talc
Most asbestos-containing cosmetics are made with talc. Talc is a soft, powdery mineral. Its moisture-absorbing properties make it especially popular for powders. Talc-based powder can keep feet dry, prevent chafing, and absorb excess shine when applied to the face.
Talc in powdered blush and eyeshadow keeps these products from smearing. Talc itself is not classified as a carcinogen. Scientists do not believe that talc alone can cause pleural mesothelioma.
The problem is that talc deposits tend to lie close to asbestos deposits in the ground. It is nearly impossible to mine talc without also picking up some asbestos. Asbestos is the number one cause of mesothelioma around the world. Without careful screening, talc-based cosmetics can easily be asbestos-containing cosmetics.
“The lack of regulation and adequate testing of talc-containing personal care products in the US has resulted in the contamination of cosmetics with asbestos,” writes Tasha Stoiber, PhD. Dr. Stoiber is a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group and lead author of the report in Environmental Health Insights.
Mesothelioma Risk From Asbestos-Containing Cosmetics
It is not possible to tell if a personal care product is contaminated with asbestos without testing. A consumer may have no idea they are using asbestos-containing cosmetics. Over time, these products can lead to deadly mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Microscopic asbestos fibers are thin and sharp. If asbestos-tainted powder gets inside the body, the fibers stay there. They can cause cellular changes that lead to mesothelioma. The process can take decades. People who use asbestos-containing cosmetics today could get sick many years from now and never know why.
“Talc-based cosmetics may be an overlooked and difficult-to-characterize source of exposure to asbestos, a known carcinogen,” write the authors of the new report. They say more oversight is needed to protect consumers from illnesses like peritoneal mesothelioma.
“The presence of asbestos found in products demonstrates the urgency to revise cosmetics policy,” they write.
The cosmetic and personal care industry in the US is notoriously loosely regulated. In recent years, many people have brought mesothelioma lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over the company’s talc-based powders.
Stoiber, T, et al, “Asbestos Contamination in Talc-Based Cosmetics: An Invisible Cancer Risk”, November 24, 2020, Environmental Health Insights, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1178630220976558
Stoiber, T, “EWG-Commissioned Tests Finds Cancer-Causing Asbestos in Talc-based Cosmetics”, November 25, 2020, Environmental Working Group website, https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2020/11/ewg-commissioned-tests-finds-cancer-causing-asbestos-talc-based-cosmetics