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FDA study of talc finds no sign of asbestos contamination

In response to lingering concerns about the safety of cosmetics that contain talc, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tested more than 30 products for the presence of asbestos-like fibers.


None of the tested products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen that causes mesothelioma, lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. But, because only four suppliers responded to the FDA’s request for samples, the agency says consumers should not assume all talc-containing cosmetic products are free of contamination.


Talc is a mineral made up of the elements magnesium, silicon, hydrogen and oxygen. Processed into a powder, it is widely used in cosmetics and products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders. Raw talc can be contaminated if it is mined near asbestos deposits or the ore is not sufficiently purified.


Since the 1970s, studies have linked talc particles to increased risk of lung tumors and ovarian cancer. Talc miners have higher rates of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses, and according to the Cancer Prevention Coalition at University of Illinois at Chicago, several thousand infants get sick or die each year after inhaling baby powder. A 1993 National Toxicology Program report found that even cosmetic-grade talc that does not contain asbestos-like fibers caused tumors in animal subjects.


The FDA tried to establish limits on the amount of asbestos-like fibers in cosmetic-grade talc in 1973, but the substance remains unregulated today. The agency does not require a safety review of talc-containing cosmetics and other products, nor do manufacturers have to share their safety data with the agency.


The “exploratory survey” conducted by the FDA between September, 2009 and September, 2010 was prompted by “periodic” inquiries from consumers, the agency said. An outside laboratory asked nine cosmetic talc providers for samples; four responded. The lab also purchased 34 cosmetic products containing talc, including eye shadow, blush, foundation, face powder and body powder, from Washington, D.C.-area retail stores.


Tests found no asbestos fibers in any of the raw talc samples or the cosmetic products. However, the FDA described the survey’s results as “limited … by the fact that only four talc suppliers submitted samples and by the number of products tested.


“For these reasons,” the agency concluded, “while FDA finds these results informative, they do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination.”