Asbestos in 15% of the talc-based cosmetic products, finds study

talcum powder

About 15 percent of talc-based cosmetic products contain asbestos, finds a new study.

The study, published on November 24, 2020 in the Environmental Health Insights journal, was commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and conducted by the Scientific Analytical Institute (SAI).

In their research, the EWG identified more than 2,000 personal care products sold in the last three years that contain talc, and this includes eye shadows, foundation, blush, face, and body powders.

For the study, the SAI analyzed 21 of these talc-based products, purchased from retail stores in both San Francisco and Washington, D.C, and from one online retailer. They tested seven toy make-up kits, seven eye shadow palettes, three face powders, two body powders, one blush, and one contouring palette. Ultimately, 14 percent of the products in this small sample size tested positive for asbestos.

The researchers discovered tremolite asbestos in two of the eye shadow palettes and in one of the toy make-up kits. One of the eye shadow palettes also tested positive for actinolite asbestos. In the toy make-up kits, one eye shadow was positive out of the three shades tested. Among the eye shadow palettes, 20 to 40 percent of the shades were contaminated.

Sean Fitzgerald, the head of the SAI, said in a statement: “The lab repeatedly finds asbestos in products made with talc, including cosmetics marketed to children. It’s outrageous that a precise method for testing personal care products for the presence of asbestos exists, but the cosmetics industry isn’t required to use it.”

This is not the first time asbestos has been discovered in cosmetic products. An investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019 found that nine talc-based products out of 52 tested were contaminated with asbestos. While they issued warnings to consumers about the contaminated products, according to the study, the FDA cannot issue mandatory recalls for these products, and does not require cosmetic products to be tested for asbestos.

Authors for the study say their aim is to “bring awareness to the potential hazard in cosmetics,” as asbestos has been linked to many health problems. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has identified four types of cancers that can be caused by asbestos.


Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is directly caused by inhaling asbestos. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 45,200 people died from mesothelioma in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015, despite decades of asbestos regulations.

Ovarian cancer

The IARC conducted research in 2009 that connected asbestos exposure to ovarian cancer. A 2011 meta-analysis of 18 studies further proved this theory, with researchers concluding that “exposure to asbestos is causally associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”

Lung cancer

According to the Asbestos Awareness Center, research has discovered that around 3 to 4 percent of lung cancer cases can be linked to asbestos exposure—especially exposure to long, thin asbestos fibers. These fibers are estimated to cause 2,000 to 3,000 asbestos-related lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year.

Laryngeal cancer

While the highest risk factors for laryngeal cancer are linked to narcotic and alcohol use, The Mesothelioma Center says asbestos has also been linked to the cancer. A notable 2006 study commissioned by the National Institute of Health determined (NIH) that asbestos exposure was a definite cause of laryngeal cancer, and the cancer risk was also heightened when exposure amounts were increased.




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