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Concerns Rise Over Asbestos in Talc-Based Beauty & Cosmetic Products

With asbestos litigation being the longest, most expensive mass tort in American history, most people are familiar with the naturally occurring set of minerals, its known dangers, and the many laws regulating its use and abatement which exist today.

Although asbestos is perhaps most notably recognized for diseases like mesothelioma, its long latency (the time it takes for the disease to develop), and its impact on workers in many industrial settings, the scope of its impact on public health is much more expansive than many realize.

Asbestos has well-documented risks for adverse health problems – including asbestosis (a lung disease), diffuse pleural thickening, and various forms of cancer – and it can affect a variety of people, professions, and products – from building supplies and barber shops to beauty and cosmetic products.

A brief history of cosmetics containing asbestos:

  • 1976: The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), now the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), issues "purity standards," calling for all talc-based cosmetic products in the U.S. to be free of detectable amounts of asbestos.
  • 2017-2018: Tests conducted on certain Claire's makeup products revealed high levels of asbestos.
  • December 2019: Congress holds hearings regarding asbestos-contaminated talc used in cosmetics.
  • March 2020: The FDA releases a study revealing that 17% of sampled talc products contained asbestos.
  • December 2020: The EPA is ordered by the court to close loopholes that companies used when reporting asbestos contamination.
  • August 2022: Johnson & Johnson announces that they will discontinue talc-based baby powder by 2023, replacing the talc with corn starch.
  • December 2022: FDA releases report that all tested talc cosmetics contained no detectable asbestos.

Advocates, Regulators Look to Standardize Asbestos Testing in Cosmetics

Asbestos contamination in beauty and cosmetic products has become a major focus for safety advocates and regulators in recent years. Due to rising concerns, it was the subject of a recent FDA Public Meeting held on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at the FDA’s Campus in Silver Spring, MD.

The Meeting – “Testing Methods for Asbestos in Talc and Cosmetic Products Containing Talc” ­– discussed the science behind testing methodologies, terminology, and criteria that can be applied to characterize and measure asbestos and other potentially harmful elongate mineral particles (EMPs) which may exist in cosmetics made with talc (or talcum powder).

The ultimate goal for the FDA Public Meeting is to create more rigorous and standardized testing methods for asbestos and other particles in cosmetics and other consumer products which pose health concerns for the public. The motivations are clear:

  • Since 2017, a number of national and international retailers have voluntarily recalled cosmetic products due to the presence of asbestos;
  • Johnson & Johnson is currently facing thousands of lawsuits over claims that use of its talcum powder products, including its Baby Powder, caused cancer, and has already been hit with multi-million verdicts in high-profile trials. In October 2019, J&J voluntarily recalled one lot of its talc-based Baby Powder after a sample tested positive for asbestos, and the FDA advised consumers to avoid using the product.
  • In 2017, asbestos was found in several makeup products marketed for children – including those sold by retailers Justice and Claire’s. The products have since been recalled.

Why Is There Asbestos in Cosmetic Products?

Asbestos finds its way into cosmetic products because there is a considerable lack of regulatory oversight and standardized testing involving cosmetic-grade talc – a clay mineral comprised of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Talc is used widely in consumer cosmetics – such as lipstick and foundation – to help absorb moisture.

Unless products containing talc are specifically tested for contamination, there is no way to know if it contains asbestos. As such, risks of asbestos contamination in talc and talc-based cosmetics is high.

Unfortunately, regulations over cosmetics are severely insufficient and outdated:

  • The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) hasn’t been amended since it was first enacted in 1938.
  • The FD&C still doesn’t require federal regulators to review or approve cosmetics before they hit the market.
  • Cosmetic companies and manufacturers are not legally required to test products before they’re sold to consumers.

Though the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (now known as the Personal Care Products Council) encouraged its members in the cosmetics industry to use asbestos-free talc in products as far back as 1976, it’s still being found in makeup and other beauty supplies today.

In a time when consumers have access to an array of new and seemingly ingenious cosmetic and beauty supplies, the need for modernizing cosmetics regulations in the U.S. and ensuring product safety is crucial.

With its Public Meeting, the FDA hopes to not only determine effective testing mechanisms – such as transmission electron microscope (TEM), which experts say is far better at detecting asbestos than X-ray diffraction (XRD) or polarized light microscopy (PLM) – a but also obtain input from scientists, attorneys, and industry insiders on regulating how manufacturers source, use, and test talc.

As of now, the FDA is asking cosmetics companies to voluntarily register products and list all ingredients – including talc.

Fighting for Victims of Asbestos Exposure

As a national trial practice with extensive experience in complex asbestos, mesothelioma, and toxic exposure claims, Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC believes consumers should never bear the burden of having to determine which products are free from potential contaminants – products made available to the public should arrive on shelves only after testing ensures they are safe.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Even if new regulations are eventually enacted, product manufacturers and corporations have proven their tendency to prioritize profits over people. This means protecting the public will rely not only on regulatory enforcement and compliance, but also aggressive litigation against manufacturers that fail to ensure the safety of their products.

At BCH, our Houston-based attorneys actively represent victims and families across Texas and the U.S. in a range of civil lawsuits involving asbestos exposure and product liability claims. We’re available 24/7 to discuss your potential case, and what options you may have. Call  or contact us online to request a FREE consultation.

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