Google “Is talc in makeup safe?” and you’ll find tons of pages with what seems like differing and at times, conflicting answers to the question.
Some articles claim that talc in makeup is completely safe, because it is not a known carcinogen. In the very next paragraph, these articles will then cite the lawsuit that Johnson & Johnson faced (and lost) over a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using talc powder made by the company.
So what is the truth about talc? What is it? How is it used in makeup and beauty products? And is it really dangerous?
This article will explore the controversy over talc. Let’s dive in!
What is Talc?
Talc, a shorthand for talcum powder, is a mineral that is mined for commercial uses. Talc has been used extensively in makeup products because of its ability to create a soft, silky texture in the product. It also dilutes pigmented products and acts as a filler in powder compacts, finishing powders, eye shadows, blushes, foundations and creams. It is popular due to its mattifying effects, and was concentrated in products formulated for oily skins.
*How to spot talc in your products: Look for “talcum powder, cosmetic talc, or hydrated magnesium silicate” on the ingredients list*
Talc came into popularity more than 30 years ago, when the makeup-look in vogue at that time was the matte look. Everyone used talc powder in their products for that ‘dry powder’ look. Although the dry powder look is not as popular today, talc powder is still widely used. There are brands that recently transitioned away from talc powder (such as Cover FX created by the co-founder of MAC) for aesthetic reasons, not because of health concerns.
Talc can be commonly found in…
- Baby powder
- Body and shower products
- Feminine hygiene products
- Face Masks
- Glitter makeup
Why is Talc Potentially Dangerous?
Although it is widely used, talc is seen by many as potentially dangerous and as a carcinogen. Health concerns related to talc are irritation, cancer, organ system toxicity, and more. This is because talc may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. Although talc and asbestos are two different minerals, they are formed together and it is difficult for asbestos to be completely separated from talc. Especially because of poor regulations in mineral mining, talc can often be contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos is well-studied and known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Companies that mine and use talc powder would like to reassure the FDA and consumers that their talc does not contain any asbestos contamination. But there has been a long history of asbestos being found in so-called “asbestos-free” talc products. Companies are not mandated to test for asbestos either. This is how talc products can be accompanied by asbestos.
This is where the opinions online split. Talc itself is not a known carcinogen, according to the FDA. But asbestos is and it often comes along with talc.
So is it safe to use talc?
By itself, yes. But in reality — products containing talc products have a high chance of also containing asbestos.
That’s why the European Union requires products containing talc to have the warning “keep powder away from children’s nose and mouth”. Can you imagine picking up baby powder with this label on the back?
The debate is still ongoing about the dangers of talc and how regulated it should be in cosmetics. The thing that’s clear, however, is that for consumers who want to be mindful of the ingredients found in their products, talc is one to seriously be on guard about.