talc

Naturally occurring mineral composed of magnesium, hydrogen, oxygen, and silicon which combine to form what’s known as anhydrous (contains water) magnesium silicate. Talc is often the main ingredient in loose and pressed face powders, powder foundations, and body powders for adults and children. It may also be used in skin care products where it serves as an absorbent. Talc is also used in some liquid foundations and concealers, where it adds opacity and contributes to the makeup’s texture.

An ongoing concern with talc since the 1970s has been whether it contains asbestos fibers known as chrysotile, which pose a serious risk to lung health when inhaled. Talc can become contaminated with these fibers during the mining process because asbestos (also a naturally-occurring mineral) is found in nature in close proximity to talc. This is why the selection of talc mining sites is so important, as is screening all talc batches for the presence of asbestos fibers.

The screening process mentioned above is something the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been actively doing with commercially-available talc-containing products for several years. They’re routinely announcing to the public which talc-containing products do and do not contain asbestos. Thankfully, the majority of such products do not contain this carcinogen and are considered safe when used as directed. Talc-containing products that testing shows do have asbestos are routinely recalled. This includes talc-based body powders from major brands like Johnson & Johnson, who’ve been subject to ongoing litigation concerning allegations of the presence of asbestos in their talc products.

Consumers who remain concerned about whether the talc-containing products they use contain asbestos are advised to contact the brand and ask about batch certification testing to ensure the safety of these products. But we must acknowledge the public record the talc industry at large has of providing misleading information in order to conceal potential risk, justifying ongoing consumer skepticism.

Alternately, you may wish to avoid all personal care products that contain talc and seek alternatives such as those made with other absorbents like corn starch, rice powder, silica, boron nitride, nylon-12, and responsibly-mined mica, or various other non-talc ingredients.

Overall, despite ongoing controversies and legal issues, asbestos-free talc is considered safe for use in makeup and skin care, although it’s recommended to avoid applying loose powder talc in the genital area. According to the formal safety assessment completed in 2015, “Industry specifications state that cosmetic-grade talc must contain no detectable fibrous, asbestos minerals.” They go on to caution that “Talc should not be applied to the skin when the epidermal barrier is missing or significantly disrupted”, which makes sense given talc is not meant to get into the body, it is meant to stay on skin’s surface.

Last Updated: March 2020

References for this information:
Epidemiology, November 2019, pages 783-788
American Journal of Public Health, July 2019, pages 969-974
JNCI Cancer Spectrum, April 2018, ePublication
Risk Analysis, May 2017, pages 918-929; and July 2016, ePublication
International Journal of Toxicology, July-August 2015, Supplement, pages 66S-129S
European Journal of Cancer Prevention, November 2011, pages 501-507; and April 2008, pages 139-146

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