A few mornings ago, I woke up to a series of text messages from a friend who was a bit upset about talc and its link to cancer.
“I’m freaking out about this article about asbestos in talc! Did you know it was a thing, and am I just late to this news?” she asked. “It turns out it’s in all my makeup!”
Actually, not just makeup. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, talc – listed as talcum or talcum powder, cosmetic talc or magnesium silicate – is found in baby powder, body and shower products, lotions, feminine hygiene products, eyeshadow, foundation, lipstick, deodorants and face masks. So, like, all the beauty products. Talc is also used to make some supplements, pharmaceutical pills, chewing gum and polished rice.
But let’s back up for a moment. What is my friend talking about? Up until this point, I had heard some vague rumblings about lawsuits related to ovarian cancer and baby powder, but the consensus seemed to be that the connection was slim to none. But when I logged online this week, I realized a bombshell investigative report from Reuters had hit the internet, detailing that Johnson & Johnson had known since the 1970s that there could be asbestos in the talc they used in their baby powder.
It’s an incredibly long read, which you should attempt if you have patience for a deep dive into science and have a half hour to settle in. But in case you don’t (understandable) it can be summed up like this: talc is a mineral that is mined from the earth, and often asbestos deposits are found running through talc deposits. Asbestos is actually a class of minerals that all have a fiber-like composition, which means the particles can get lodged in your lungs and lead to mesothelioma decades down the line. Now, thousands of women are suing Johnson & Johnson their massive cover-up of the risks. I mean, in baby powder! Come on!
The big question you might have is: should you be worried about talc in your products right now? Well, maybe. J&J says there is definitely no longer asbestos in any of its talc products, because it gets its talc from a Chinese mine without adulteration. (Oh, yes, that it comes from China instead of Pennsylvania is supposed to make us feel better about its purity.) That may be true, but remember that the F.D.A. does not have the funds nor power to require regular testing of personal care products on the U.S. market. According to The New York Times, “The F.D.A. last tested talc products in 2010 and found no asbestos, but it was provided raw talc from only four suppliers and tested only 24 commercial products. Experts who have analyzed talc on behalf of plaintiffs suing Johnson & Johnson say they have detected asbestos in talc products.”
Terrified? Yay, welcome to the United States, where only you can protect your health from toxic beauty products. Until we get an entire overhaul of our personal care product regulation, you’re going to have to be smart about where you buy your beauty products.
Since my friend has already thrown out all her makeup containing talc, I’ve put together a list of online stores where she (and you) can shop with complete confidence for products that are completely talc-free.
Launched in January of 2017, Nordstrom’s new natural beauty section (online and IRL) features products that are free of an expanding roster of toxic ingredients, which now includes parabens, sulfate, phthalates, as well as petrochemicals, mineral oil, silicone, and talc. Find the usuals like Herbivore Botanicals, Tata Harper, and Kypris, plus new faces like Youth to the People, Chantecaille, and Arcona.
This San Francisco-based store likes to import little-known products from Europe, in order to capture some of that French skincare magic. (Read my whole review here.) My favorite brands on this site are Bottega Organica and Myhavtorn. But if all these foreign brands look impenetrable, no worries. You can get samples or set up a private skin consultation in person or over Skype. They also sell some American and Californian products. Founder Dara Kennedy told me by email: “We choose to avoid [talc], because there are so many alternatives that are equally effective without the checkered history and potential safety problems.”
Inspired by traditional beauty rituals and healing practices of Asia and The Far East, JUNIPER and YU is an online destination devoted to all things beauty, health, and well-being. They curate non-toxic, sustainable, and ethically made products that nourish the mind, body, and soul. From wild-harvested skin elixirs to ancient tonic botanicals, your senses will take you on an invigorating journey across the world to experience beauty at its finest. You can shop by skin type, skincare category, internal beauty category (ie: brain food), or brand. JUNPER and YU doesn’t allow any products containing talc in their shop at all.
I absolutely recommend this brand for it’s well-developed collection of anti-aging and skincare products. Shop by product type or skin type, and build a comprehensive skincare regiment that is grounded in science. They prohibit talc as an ingredient as well!
With skincare and makeup, this effective and clean brand provides everything a modern girl needs to take care of her skin and feel great, without toxins, especially if you are struggling with acne or other skin ailments. Shop by product type, skin type, or collection. They prohibit talc in their formulations, along with a long list of other toxic ingredients.
Natural Stores and Brands That Do Carry Talc Products
There are several online stores that I usually recommend as excellent resources for non-toxic beauty, but who currently do not completely prohibit talc as an ingredient. Those are: Detox Market, Le Vert, Cap Beauty, Credo Beauty, and Follain. All of them carry Kjaer Weis, which has talc in several of its makeup products. I reached out to these businesses via email, and a PR representative for Follain forwarded this statement from founder and CEO Tara Foley:
We don’t allow conventional talc in products at Follain. Kjaer Weis specifically uses non nano talc, meaning the particles are too big for the skin to absorb. Additionally it has been tested for any potential contamination. The risk with talc, and reason why it’s rightfully been in the news, comes when it’s inhaled (the big poof in the air when you apply baby powder) and of course contamination of something you could inhale is incredibly serious. Kjaer Weis’ ingredient is in their cream based makeup, so it can’t be inhaled.
Credo Beauty includes talc in their list of dirty ingredients, stating that they do not carry talcum powder, and they ask companies using talc in cosmetics to obtain documentation that the talc they are purchasing has been tested and found to be asbestos-free, even at trace levels. It should be noted here that J&J can also currently produce documentation certifying that their products are asbestos-free, and in general, self-testing by companies is not a reliable method to ascertain safety.
So it’s up to you whether that makes you comfortable enough to shop Kjaer Weis or at stores that allow talc.
I will update this post with any more replies that come in.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is trying to get legislation passed so that all beauty products are safe! Check them out for updates on legislation, petitions to sign, and other ways to get involved.