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Asbestos in Makeup: Steps You Can Take to Avoid Exposure

In March 2018, we found asbestos, a known carcinogen, in three cosmetic products sold by Claire’s, an American retailer that primarily markets to young girls. While we advocate for change in the system that allows asbestos to end up in kids’ makeup, there are steps you should take to keep you and your family safe from asbestos exposure. 

There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, especially for children. Any level of exposure can lead to a multitude of diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Asbestos is not intentionally added to makeup. Instead, it contaminates talc, a mineral ingredient that is used in makeup. This is because asbestos often forms alongside talc in nature, so when talc is mined for commercial use, asbestos sometimes comes with it. Talc is used in makeup because it’s soft and soaks up moisture effectively, but the frequent contamination by a known carcinogen means that it simply isn’t worth the risk. 

At U.S. PIRG, we’re working to push companies to eliminate talc and asbestos from all consumer products. In the meantime, consumers can take steps to protect themselves from exposure to this dangerous contaminant in cosmetic products.

  1. Avoid products that contain talc in the ingredients: The best way to avoid exposure to asbestos is to avoid talc altogether. Talc can be listed under a few different names, so when shopping for personal care products, avoid products that list any of these on the ingredients label: 

  • Talc
  • Talcum
  • Talcum powder
  • Cosmetic talc
  • Magnesium silicate
  1. Teach your kids how to read labels: Specifically, teach them to avoid all talc ingredient names listed above. Exposure to toxic contaminants often poses a greater risk to children, whose bodies are still developing

  1. Buy from talc-free cosmetic brands: You can send a message to the cosmetics industry by voting with your dollar. Stay healthy and show cosmetic companies that asbestos is not an acceptable risk for the use of talc by purchasing from talc-free brands. These cosmetic brands are a few of the brands that do not use talc in any of their products:

  • Pacifica
  • Shea Moisture
  • Smashbox
  • Honest Beauty
  • Affordable Mineral Makeup
  • Everyday Minerals
  • Ecco Bella
  • Juice Beauty
  1. Safely dispose of talc products in your home: If you have talc products, you can use common sense safety measures to protect yourself from exposure during the disposal process. We have adapted tips from guidelines regarding asbestos in building materials to give you some guidance on how to dispose of makeup products in your home. 

  • Wear a HEPA respirator if you have access to one. Ordinary dust masks are not effective in preventing the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Consider putting on clothes you want to throw away, since asbestos cannot be washed out of fabric well.
  • Identify all talc products, as well as any makeup brushes or tools that have come into contact with them. Ensure that all containers with talc products are securely sealed.
  • Place all your items into sealable bags, such as Ziploc bags. If you cannot place the bags in the trash right away, make sure to label them with “Asbestos - Do Not Open,” to protect other members of your household from exposure.
  • If dust from any of your products gets onto surfaces in your home, do not dust, sweep or vacuum it, as doing so could disturb asbestos fibers and release them into the air. Instead, remove dust by wet mopping or wiping down the surface with a damp paper towel.

While these tips will help to keep you healthy, it’s unfortunate that consumers must do so much to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals in their personal care products. No one should have to dispose of toxic materials in their own homes, especially not asbestos. We are continuing to demand that companies remove talc altogether.