Is There Asbestos in My Makeup?

By Cristina M. in Health

Throughout the 20th century, and especially the first half of it with the World Wars occurring, the United States was putting a large part of its resources into adequately equipping the military to ensure that they succeeded in combat. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral soon became everybody's saving grace, as its fireproofing qualities and its low cost allowed for cheap military equipment to be built quickly and in large amounts in order to be sent to the combat zones so that operations would not be comprised by faulty apparatus. However, as the popularity of the miracle fiber increased, it inevitably made its way into the day-to-day medium as well. Pipes and electrical wiring were lined with asbestos mixtures in a growing number of households despite the serious concerns about such an exposure being raised by a few medical professionals at the time, including the Surgeon General himself. Nowadays, it is a well-known fact that asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma, a grave form of cancer that only generally has a two years life expectancy after diagnosis.

The Makeup Industry and Asbestos

When it comes to asbestos in make-up, its presence in the compounds has been explained by its association with talc, which is a component of many products in the cosmetic industry due to its quality of absorbing moisture. Both talc and asbestos are minerals and in most instances, in their natural states, they are found in the same deposits in the ground. The concern regarding the contamination of talc with asbestos fibers dates back to the 1970s when regulations of asbestos use were in motion.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, otherwise known as PIRG released a comprehensive statement in March 2018 about their discovery of asbestos in makeup items as sold by Claire's. In their public statement, PIRG explains that they tested four products and in three of them they found a high concentration of asbestos.

The items that tested positive for asbestos were:

  • Compact Powder;
  • Contour Palette;
  • Shadow and Highlight Finishing Kit.

Eventually, it did not take long for the products to be taken off the market, however, watchdog groups are still fearful of Claire's not being an isolated case given the history of big companies and asbestos usage to the detriment of consumers in the United States.

Cosmetic Talc and Asbestos Concerns

The only way for asbestos to be a part of the components of makeup products is through talcum powder that has not been tested and purified after extraction, and so it ends up contaminated with asbestos. Most of these products are:

  • face powders;
  • eyeshadows;
  • blushes;
  • foundations;
  • creams;

The fact that asbestos-related diseases have a long period of latency, up to over 50 years, makes it difficult to prove causality. This means that even if asbestos is discovered in makeup products, the law says nothing about what should be done about it, more precisely, no law in the United States calls for the talc used in makeup to not contain asbestos.

For the average person shopping for makeup, there is no foolproof method to determine that the products that interest them do not contain any asbestos. In fact, the U.S. government labels any items that may have a percentage of 1% asbestos as asbestos-free since it is their view that no harm could be caused in these conditions.

It appears the only practical way to not have to worry about asbestos in makeup is to avoid products containing talc altogether. In this sense, it is important to be familiarized with the various terminology referring to the same substance. Therefore, talc, cosmetic talc, talcum powder or magnesium silicate, all have the possibility of being contaminated with asbestos.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.