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What's the trouble with talc?

non-toxic without the nonsense Aug 27, 2021
Hands pouring talcum powder from a bottle, with a white towel, a rubber duck, and bath items in the background, suggesting personal hygiene routines.

Talc is the softest, silkiest mineral on earth. Maybe even as smooth as a baby’s bottom…  It’s high capacity to absorb water made it a great ingredient for baby and body powders and makeup. Also called talcum powder, it is used in many non-cosmetic products as well, including construction, plastics, rubber, coatings, pharmaceuticals, and paper, because it’s versatile and inexpensive.

 

Unfortunately, when talc is mined, it is frequently found alongside and intermingled with other minerals and substances including quartz and asbestos. During the process of turning talc from a rock to a powder, many minerals are removed. It is more difficult to remove the small fibers that make up asbestos.  These fibers are a carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent. This means they can trigger unnatural cell mutations within a person’s body. Specifically, talc has been associated with the development of mesothelioma and ovarian cancers. 

 

Why talc anyways? 

Because it works really well and is a cheap filler that dilutes pigmented products. Talc gives powder-based makeup the ability to “set” liquid or cream-based products to keep them in place, absorb oil, and reduce shine.

 

Dating back to 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA), which is the trade association representing the cosmetic and personal care products industry, issued voluntary guidelines stating that all talc used in cosmetic products in the United States should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos according to their standards. (Cancer.org) Unfortunately, as recently as November 2020, a study found 14% of talc-containing makeup tested contained asbestos. Products that have been associated with positive testing have included Johnson’s Baby Powder and children’s makeup products sold by both Claire’s and Justice. 

Unfortunately, the standards used by the CTFA require only 1 teaspoon out of a 20 ton lot of talc to be tested for asbestos. If that 1 teaspoon is asbestos-free the entire lot is deemed safe. Additionally, asbestos fibers are incredibly small. Testing is most accurate when powerful electron microscopes are used to look for it in talc but the industry standard is to use lower-powered microscopes that are not nearly as sensitive. 

 

While the FDA considers it to be unacceptable to have asbestos in cosmetics, they do not have any ability to regulate or enforce this statement. The federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 does not require the FDA to review cosmetic products and their ingredients, with the exception of color additives.



Tips for Avoiding Asbestos in Cosmetics

  • Be aware of and avoid brands that test positive for asbestos.
  • Buy talc-free brands.
  • Don’t assume brands that claim to be clean, organic or natural are totally free of asbestos.

 

Talc is an all-natural substance and another example of natural not always being the safest option. There’s no foolproof way to know if the talc in a product is truly asbestos-free without extensive testing of the individual product*. 

 

Certain cosmetic products and brands make talc-free makeup and cosmetics. Online resources are available to find these brands and products. For example, you can use the website EWG.org and the Healthy Living App to find safe cosmetics.

 

Overall, it’s probably wise to avoid talc as best able. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against the use of talc-based baby powders. Some scientific research indicates talc may increase the risk of lung cancer in miners and uterine and ovarian cancer in women. The data on ovarian cancer is a bit harder to dissect given it is a rarer diagnosis. 

 

THE FOLLOWING COSMETIC BRANDS ARE MADE FREE OF TALC:

  • Beautycounter*
  • Shea Moisture
  • Smashbox
  • Honest Beauty
  • Juice Beauty

 

*Soon!! Products containing talc were very carefully sourced. Each and every batch is tested for asbestos and over 1800 other ingredients on our Never List.


This blog was updated 4/16/2022. 

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