The rise of talc-free cosmetics

As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, mined from the earth, composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen that has many uses in cosmetics and personal care products. For example, it can be used to absorb moisture, prevent caking, opaque facial makeup, or enhance the feel of a product.”​

Concerns about the use of talc in cosmetic and personal beauty products have been pervasive since the 1970’s when questions arose about possible asbestos contamination. Asbestos is like talc in that it is a naturally occurring mineral but unlike talc it is a known carcinogen if inhaled.

As a result of these concerns, there has been a general shift from talc to other alternative ingredients in the cosmetics and beauty care industry, and labeling as talc-free has become more common.

To learn more about the issues with talc as a cosmetic ingredient, CosmeticsDesign spoke to Rani Ghosh, Registered Chief Toxicologist at manufacturer Kimberly Clark, as well as Stefanie Lendzian, Founder of talc-free beauty and personal care brand NAPRIM Naturals for their insights and expertise on the topic .

CDU:​ What are the potential dangers of using talc in cosmetic or personal beauty care products?​

Stefanie Lendzian (SL): Talcum powder can be contaminated with asbestos and linked to endometrial and ovarian cancer. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be deadly if it enters the body, causing lung cancer, mesothelioma and many other diseases.

Rani Ghosh (RG)​: The safety of talc has been a fairly long debate, dating back to the 1960s, because of the alleged link between perineal talc use and the occurrence of ovarian cancer. Much of the reason for this discussion is that the relationship between talc and asbestos is widely misunderstood – and this is critical to understanding why we are where we are at talc.

Where talc is a naturally occurring silicate mineral mined from the earth, so is asbestos (they both have different crystalline structures). It gets a little sticky there, as they can often be in close proximity to each other in the earth and where talc is an inert material, i.e. chemically inactive, asbestos is a known human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer), through inhalation .

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Therefore, it is important to note that the human health risk from talc only comes into play if talc is accidentally contaminated with asbestos during mining. As such, locations should be selected with due care and suppliers should test talc ore to ensure it is asbestos free. When talking about the dangers of using talc in cosmetics, it takes into account possible contamination with asbestos. The cosmetics industry has specifications that it must be of cosmetic grade, meaning no detectable fibrous asbestos minerals. If these endorsements can be made and cosmetic grade talc is sourced and used, the use of talc in cosmetic and beauty care products poses no risk.

CDU​: Are there any studies that prove the possible health effects of talc in cosmetics or personal care products?​

RG​: Where this has been an active area of ​​research for decades, one may get the idea that the evidence suggests the use of talc for adverse health effects. However, despite all the research available to us, there is no plausible biological explanation for how cosmetic talc (non-asbestos) applied to the perineal area can lead to the development of ovarian cancer or any other type of cancer. Science still supports the safe use of cosmetic talc.

CDU: Is talc widely used as an ingredient in cosmetic and personal care products in the US?

SL​: The FDA continues ongoing research on talc in cosmetics. Since the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, the FDA has been monitoring potential safety issues with cosmetic products. In 2022, the FDA tested talc-containing cosmetics for asbestos in over fifty products, and the results showed no evidence in any of the tested cosmetics. Therefore, you will not find any cosmetic or personal care products that contain talc; If anything, you’ll see a massive focus on talk-free products.

RG​: Talc is a commonly used cosmetic ingredient around the world because it absorbs moisture fairly well, in makeup it’s a great filler on the skin’s surface to prevent caking, improves the feel of the product and is a great base for color cosmetics . It’s also abundantly available and cheap to formulate. Many of the larger makeup companies want to go/become “talc-free,” not for health reasons, but because they realize that many consumers just don’t want it in their products.

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CDU: Is it advisable for consumers to avoid cosmetics and body care products containing talc for health reasons and instead look for talc-free alternatives?

RG​: There is still no conclusive scientific evidence to support a link between the incidence of ovarian cancer and other cancers from the use of cosmetic talc. Speculation is not the evidence regulators are looking for to enforce a ban, so no additional measures to restrict the use of talc in cosmetic products are currently being considered in Europe or the US. However, should scientific data emerge showing a link between talc use and cancer, a new risk assessment would be required to reassess consumer safety.

However, speculation means the safety of talc is under close scrutiny and Cosmetics Europe, the European personal care association, has launched a technical collaboration on talc with the aim of producing a safety dossier for submission to the European Commission. in the ongoing security review process.

In the US, the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MOCRA) has required the FDA to establish standardized test methods for the detection and identification of asbestos in cosmetic products containing talc within the next one year and 180 days. Therefore, we have implemented risk reduction measures worldwide to continue its safe use.

If current science supports its safe use, no major cosmetics company will market its products as “talc-free.” So, if consumers still have some discomfort or fear of cosmetics containing talc, they can check if there is talc in the ingredient list of the product and try to avoid it. There is no guidance for consumers to take steps to avoid cosmetics containing talc to avoid adverse effects on their health. If this were true, that ingredient would be banned. We are not allowed to sell unsafe products, EU or NA. So all the steps consumers take are based on personal preference.

CDU: What are some of the benefits of using talc-free cosmetic and personal care products?​

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SL​: The ingredients used in personal care products to replace talc have many benefits. Arrowroot, for example, is a light, fine powder that soothes skin irritations, including rashes, acne, and skin sores. It makes skin softer and smoother while absorbing oil. Kaolin clay is the most natural and delicate clay, which is excellent for sensitive skin. Kaolin clay removes impurities and toxins from pores without clogging them. These are two good options if you want to hydrate and refresh your skin with non-irritating ingredients.

CDU: Are talc-free cosmetic and personal care products more environmentally friendly than products that contain talc?

SL​: Yes, talc, free toiletries and cosmetics are more environmentally friendly. Talc is produced in an open pit mine where the rock is drilled, blasted and partially crushed. Dynamite is used to blow up the mining area, destroying natural habitats. Asbestos contamination of talc has been used in design and manufacturing. Inhaling talc can cause respiratory toxicity and cause lung cancer and other health problems. Asbestos does not easily dissolve or evaporate. The places of greatest exposure can travel and remain airborne and aquatic. Animals can breathe in asbestos particles in the air or ingest them from the water. Asbestos does not decompose; hence the danger persists for long periods of time.

CDU: Are talc-free cosmetic and personal care products cheaper to manufacture and produce?​

SL​: Many talc-free alternatives in personal care and cosmetic products are inexpensive—arrowroot powder, cornstarch, baking soda, tapioca starch, kaolin clay, and zinc.

CDU: Is there anything else to add?

SL​: Many natural, plant-based ingredients have significant skin and hair benefits that are overlooked. Plant based powder ingredients can have powerful effects on the skin, with significant benefits for those struggling with acne, dry skin, rashes, eczema, psoriasis and more. Powdered personal care products eliminate fillers (i.e. water, preservatives, fragrances, etc.) leaving a more concentrated blend of active ingredients. Small things have a big impact; The longer shelf life and less waste means fewer trips to the store for refills! Ingredients that are good for you and the environment.