What's the risk? Talc-based Cosmetic Products
We've recently seen folks concerned about talc-based cosmetic products and the potential to contain contaminants like asbestos. In this post, we look at the risks associated with talc-based cosmetics.
What is talc?
Talc, also known as talcum powder, is an insoluble clay mineral found worldwide. It is mined and processed for many products including baby powder, makeup, foods, anti-caking agents, pharmaceuticals, and more.
Does talc contain asbestos?
In 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, now known as the Personal Care Products Council, recommended that all personal care products containing talc be tested to ensure that only asbestos-free talc is present. Testing is critical because asbestos is a known carcinogen when inhaled.
While the U.S. FDA can and does issue recalls for asbestos-contaminated products, as they are banned throughout the U.S., it's the manufacturers' responsibility to ensure they are free from the carcinogen.
Does talc cause cancer?
Talcum powders containing asbestos could cause cancer or other adverse health outcomes when inhaled in significant quantities. Talc without asbestos was not found to be a carcinogen when inhaled based on a report by the U.S. EPA.
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer due to talcum powder use is unclear. Current research shows mixed results, with some studies saying there is an elevated risk (1,2,3) while other studies, taking into account potential biases, do not indicate an increased risk.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) established that asbestos-free talc is possibly carcinogenic to humans when used on the perineum.
The IARC did not find asbestos-free talc to be carcinogenic in other uses.
Should I use talc-based powder on my children? On myself?
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using any dusting powder for infants and small children, regardless of the ingredients. This is due to the potential for infants and small children to inhale the powder leading to breathing problems unassociated with a particular ingredient.
Talc-based powders pose few health risks for adults when used according to the manufacturer's directions.
Should I avoid products containing talc?
Beyond the caution mentioned above, products containing asbestos-free talc do not pose any known health risks and are safe as long as they are used based on the manufacturer's directions.
Is talc safe in food products?
Food grade talc that you would find in products such as chewing gum and rice are GRAS ingredients, recognized as safe by the U.S. FDA., and are safe to consume.
What's the risk?
We know that talc can be contaminated with asbestos if manufacturers haven't appropriately tested it to ensure safety. We also know that asbestos is carcinogenic and can lead to cancer when inhaled in large quantities over significant periods of time. Typically, adverse health complications require significant levels of exposure found in mining, construction, and manufacturing fields.
We know that exposure can occur naturally in places of the world with asbestos-containing rocks due to natural erosion. We also know that in areas naturally high in asbestos-containing rock, water can be contaminated with asbestos, increasing someone's risk of developing health complications.
While there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure, it's doubtful the small amounts of asbestos that could be contained in contaminated talc-based cosmetics like eye shadow or face powders would lead to adverse health outcomes.
Inhaling or being exposed to asbestos-contaminated talc in small quantities is not the same intensity or exposure as an industrial setting or even repeated exposure due to the erosion of asbestos-containing rocks.
We certainly do not advocate for using cosmetic products contaminated with asbestos-containing talc. Still, the chances of being exposed to asbestos-containing talc in significant quantities are exceedingly low, making the risk essentially negligible for consumers of talc-based cosmetics.
The good news.
We know testing helps prevent asbestos-contaminated talc from appearing in the market, and we know talc-containing cosmetics are safe to use according to manufacturer recommendations. We can enjoy our favorite talc-based cosmetics without undue fears about adverse health reactions stemming from contaminated talc.