Clean makeup has gained traction in the beauty industry. We want our cosmetic products to improve our skin and not cause permanent damage due to added toxins.
Have you ever looked at the label on the back of your foundation or serum?
You probably don’t recognise many ingredients; however, some may be harmful when inhaled, ingested, or used over a long time.
One hazard that has been included in makeup products throughout the years is asbestos.
This mined fibre has gained recent news coverage due to contamination in several types of cosmetics, as well as multi-purpose products like Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.
While asbestos is not a common ingredient in beauty and skincare, it can happen.
I have had my own journey with asbestos, mesothelioma, a rare but terrible cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure, took my fathers life, which, as you can imagine, devastated my family.
So it would be best if you made yourself aware of the dangers of asbestos and how you can prevent exposure, and why you should use clean and toxin-free products.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally mined mineral with six types: tremolite, amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, actinolite, and crocidolite. While asbestos is a mineral, it has fibre like qualities. The fibres are either curly, long, pliable threads or short, need-like, and inflexible. If you encounter asbestos, you may not see all of these characteristics, as asbestos fibres are generally invisible to the naked eye.
The ability for asbestos to fall apart and disintegrate is called friability. If a type of asbestos is categorised as friable, it is more dangerous as the fibres are disrupted and can enter the body by inhalation or ingestion.
The peak of asbestos mining occurred in the early 1970s and, from then, declined steadily as new studies connected asbestos to serious health effects. During the period of widespread asbestos use, this mineral was an additive in-home and manufacturing products. Asbestos was known to be strength, fireproof, and chemical resistant abilities.
The deposits are located near natural talc and vermiculite mines, where asbestos could contaminate these other minerals.
What are the asbestos health effects?
Disturbing asbestos makes the fibres airborne, and when they enter the body, they can cause damage. The most notable disease linked to asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a type of cancer.
After asbestos settles in the heart, lungs, or stomach lining over some time, you could experience internal reactions like inflammation and scarring. These effects are what causes tumour development.
The symptoms related to mesothelioma include:
- fluid buildup
- chest pain
- unexplained weight loss
- difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- coughing or wheezing
- abdominal pain
- fever and night sweats
Often, 80-90% of the time, mesothelioma will develop in the lungs’ lining, imitating lung cancer symptoms, causing an inaccurate diagnosis. However, the treatment for mesothelioma compared to lung cancer does not have the same survival rates. This is because of a more extended latency period, meaning that patients are generally diagnosed at later stages, as mesothelioma can be undetected for decades.
Three diseases that are also associated with asbestos exposure:
- Pleural thickening – can be an indicator for mesothelioma, as it results from scar tissue on the lining of the pleura (lungs).
- Pleural plaques – do not require treatment and occur 20-30 years after extended asbestos exposure. They were identified as thickened tissue in the pleura covering small areas.
- Asbestosis – is a chronic lung condition, also referred to as pulmonary fibrosis.
Talcum Powder Makeup
Since asbestos is mined near talc deposits, asbestos fibres can often contaminate talc, an ingredient in cosmetics. Asbestos is not intentionally added, but trace amounts can show up in testing, and any of the fibres can stick to internal organs and be hazardous to your health.
Talcum powder is a beneficial ingredient in most beauty products if it does not contain any asbestos. Facial applications like blush, eyeshadow and powdered foundation often consist of talc listed as talcum, cosmetic talc, or magnesium silicate.
Eliminating talc is possible, but it is still used for its numerous advantages:
- Softens makeup
- Absorbs excess oil
- It makes makeup last longer.
- Slows caking of the powder
There are alternatives to using talc that does not have any links to asbestos:
- Rice powder
- Tapioca starch
- Corn starch
- Zinc oxide
Last December 2020, the Environmental Working Group published an analysis of laboratory tests for asbestos in two eyeshadow palettes that included talc in the ingredient list. Both kits were sold on Amazon and eBay.
EWG found that from the first makeup kit, 40% had asbestos and the second contained 20% of asbestos. That is over 3.5 million asbestos fibre structures per gram for each palette.
What should I do if there is asbestos in my makeup?
The Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the New Zealand Ministry of Health are central organisations that enforce, manage, report, and set guidelines for toxic exposure, including asbestos contamination.
Cosmetics have a significant overlap with drugs; for example, anti-dandruff shampoo can be classified as cosmetic and a pharmaceutical. In the U.S., the FDA is in charge of regulating cosmetics. Primarily, they are not in authority to manage what ingredients are permissible before the product going on the market, but they can investigate and hold a company accountable for unlawful ingredients post-production.
If there is asbestos contamination in a cosmetic, there needs to be more than a single example. Action is often done based on a large amount of positively tested products. From there, the FDA can conduct a full investigation. Recalls are also voluntary and up to the manufacturer.
The EWG is decisive in disclosing toxic products in that they do provide extensive evidence and materials to help consumers make informed choices. Their website informs readers and can give you more on the specific details on asbestos in cosmetic news.
Your skincare routine can make you feel confident; however, you should be cautious of severe long-term health consequences from toxins in makeup. Part of discovering the beauty products that are right for you is also identifying safe, environmentally-friendly, and don’t have underlying side effects.
Asbestos is not the only toxic additive; there are several harsh chemicals to avoid, including parabens, lead, fragrances, phthalates, mica, and formaldehyde, to name some. The potency and duration of exposure matter, but there is no known safe amount of asbestos exposure.
Paying attention to the ingredients in your skincare products can help you make better decisions to prevent illness or disease. Self-care also means that you consider the lasting impact of these toxins in your daily routine to ensure that you are protected.