There are several controversial ingredients in cosmetics within the beauty industry, but talc has garnered more headlines than any other ingredient. Talc is a mineral-based powder that has been used in a variety of cosmetics over the years; however, for the last several years, this ingredient has been deemed problematic. A majority of major name brands are now removing talc powder from their products.

Beauty Companies Express Concern Over Talc

Expensive lawsuits, combined with consumer concerns, have driven cosmetic companies away from manufacturing cosmetics containing talc-based products. Three major brands, including L’Oréal, Revlon, and Chanel, are currently exploring alternative ingredients or have removed talc from their products altogether.

Talc is often added to cosmetics because it adds softness, prevents caking, and absorbs moisture in personal care products. Talc is a natural element that is mined from rocks that also contain asbestos, a deadly carcinogen. Talc has recently been reappraised in cosmetics and baby powders by manufacturers, regulators, and consumers. 

Cancer lawsuits dating as far back as 2013 have been filed against Johnson & Johnson over their talcum baby powder. In 2017, allegations against the company were made by several plaintiffs who claimed that the asbestos contamination was the direct cause of their cancers. Other talc powder makers have faced lawsuits, including Avon, Chanel, and Revlon, according to court records and securities filings.

A 2018 Reuters investigation showed that Johnson & Johnson was aware of asbestos in their powders and talc for decades, which put their talc products under further scrutiny. They continue to maintain that their powders are free of asbestos and safe to use, and have denied Reuters’ claims.

Legal Concerns Regarding Talc in Cosmetics

Now facing the possibility of potential legal suits, a majority of cosmetic companies have begun to distance themselves away from products containing talc.

As recently as 2017, court documents showed that Chanel discontinued its talc-based baby powder after a woman filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that the product was responsible for her mesothelioma cancer.

A Chanel spokesperson told Reuters that they had removed talc from its loose face powder, but are still using it in their pressed powder, blush, and eye shadow. The company also told Reuters that they had discontinued the use of talc in several other products, but not all of them. A L’Oréal spokesperson said in a statement that they were exploring other skin-softening materials, but they have not found one that works as well as talc.

Cosmetic Companies Claim Talc Products Are Safe to Use

All cosmetic companies still believe that their products are asbestos-free and safe to use because their in-house testing guidelines for talc are very strict. Johnson & Johnson continues to defend its products; however, they have ceased production of its baby powder in Canada and the United States due to declining sales and negative publicity. According to a recent report, other personal care companies have ceased the production and sales of their products that contain talc.

Beiersdorf, a German-based company that produces skin care products, removed talc from its baby powder and replaced it with cornstarch in 2018. In 2019, a Canadian-based pharmaceutical company, Bausch Health, stopped making its baby powder after they were named in a number of lawsuits.

Why Talc is Used in Baby Products

Talc is highly-prone to becoming contaminated from asbestos, which leaves people wondering why it has been used in cosmetics for so long. Carla Burns is a data and research analyst at the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (EWG). According to Burns, the reason why talc is used in cosmetics is that it can prevent caking in powders, improve the texture, and is very absorbent. It can also be found in liquid products, in addition to eyeshadow, body and face powders, and blush. Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, adds that talc, in powder form, is particularly a risk. “Powders can disperse into the air we breathe, which is concerning whenever asbestos is present because the particles from talc powders can be inhaled easily,” she says.

Years of Talc Controversy

Talc was once considered a quality mineral, however, in recent years, talc has been under increased scrutiny from manufacturers, consumers, and regulators.

In March 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded a year-long study of talc. They found asbestos in 9 of the 52 products that were tested. Eight of the products that contained traces of asbestos were in women’s makeup products. Three of these products were sold by Claire’s, a well-known beauty store. The ninth discovery was in Johnson’s baby powder, which was publicly recalled in 2019. In Greensboro, North Carolina, the Scientific Analytical Institute found talc-based asbestos contaminants in two eyeshadow products that were sold on eBay and Amazon earlier this year.

In the meantime, the FDA is conducting a second analysis of 50 more products and is planning to establish an asbestos testing standard for all consumer products. While cosmetic companies also conduct their own safety testing, this process has come into question regarding the safety of their talc products. Manufacturers often dispute asbestos contamination findings in an attempt to cite different testing methods and results. The dispute over testing includes the exact quantification of asbestos contaminants in the products.

In January, the FDA received recommendations from experts in several different federal agencies to standardize the testing process.  

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