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Concerns Around Use Of Contaminated Talc In Cosmetic Body Powder And Make-Up Products And Lack Of Consumer Awareness

Limited understanding in UK of potential asbestos contamination in talcum powder and talc- based make-up products and associated health risks

Talcum powder and talc based make-up products are part of everyday life in many UK homes, but how many of us are fully aware of the ingredients in these products and how the raw materials are sourced.

The mineral, talc, (also known as magnesium silicate), is mined in a number of countries around the world. A fact which is little known, is that talc is frequently found in areas where the asbestos mineral is also present. They are “companion minerals”. This means that when talc is extracted at source and later milled and processed, it may be contaminated with asbestos. This is a historic problem which is unfortunately, ongoing. Even in recent years, talc based cosmetic products have been found to be contaminated with asbestos fibres.

Asbestos is dangerous to health and its importation into the UK has been banned since 1999 and yet asbestos fibres are still found in talc and cosmetics available to purchase today. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can result in various diseases, including mesothelioma, a fatal cancer. The way we use cosmetic products means that if the product contains microscopic asbestos fibres, it is inevitable that we will breathe them in.

In spite of the domestic ban on the importation of asbestos here, we have unwittingly continued to import and consume, asbestos contaminated, talc based, body powder and make-up products including powder blusher, bronzer, contour palettes, eyeshadow, face powder, and foundation. Cosmetic companies are not required to warn of potential asbestos contamination through the use of talcum powder in their products.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported last year that “Johnson & Johnson will end global sales of baby powder containing the mineral talc in 2023, switching to a formulation based on corn starch. The company is facing over 40,000 lawsuits in the US alleging that baby powder is contaminated with asbestos caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.”

There is no known link between the use of talc and cancer but rather, the risk arises when asbestos fibres contaminate the talc, rendering it potentially carcinogenic.

If cosmetic products are “talc-free”, they ought to be safe. Although a manufacturer may have certified the talc used in their product is “asbestos free”, we should be wary of such marketing claims. The only way of being certain, is to avoid using products containing talc.

Lorna Webster, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, comments: “We want people to be fully aware of the ingredients being used in make-up and of the potential health risks so they can make their own informed decisions. While the thought of asbestos fibres being found in cosmetics is a scary and shocking thought, it must be remembered that not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos fibres will develop cancer. However, it is important to be aware of this risk, so everyone can make informed choices and switch to “talc-free” cosmetics if they wish. Not all talc containing products have been contaminated with asbestos fibres, but it is impossible to know which products on the shelves today have been contaminated and which haven’t. The safest choice is not take any risks at all with your health and the health of those around you, by using products which do not contain talc.

With so many make-up products available at all budget levels, that are talc free, why take the risk? Having two teenage daughters myself and having had conversations with them about the ingredients in the products in their make-up bags, many items have been thrown away and talc-free replacements bought for them. I have clients with mesothelioma who are believed to have developed the condition from the use of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder and make-up products.

As a lawyer, I was very concerned about how mesothelioma was caused in my clients but as a mother, I was absolutely horrified knowing my daughters owned cosmetics containing talc and at not being able to identify if that talc contains asbestos fibres. It is important that the general public are aware of this risk. If the risk of developing mesothelioma can be reduced by avoiding potentially contaminated talc products, surely that is the best and safest thing to do.”

The issue of contamination of make-up is not confined to products consumed by adults. Contamination was found in children’s beauty brand Claire’s Accessories products. The brand removed three products from shelves in 2019 after traces of asbestos were found in an eyeshadow palette.

Isobel Lovett, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, adds: “It is negligent for companies to sell any product containing traces of asbestos. Our intimate use of trusted cosmetic brand products exposes us to a health risk, the existence of which many of us are still unaware. At Hodge Jones & Allen, we want to raise awareness of this very worrying situation and the potential impact on our health.

If you are suffering from breathlessness, a persistent cough, wheezing or chest pain, you should seek advice from your GP and ensure they know you may have suffered asbestos exposure, whether this be from your previous employment, the use of talc based body powder or make-up. Your GP can advise you and ensure that the cause of these common symptoms is investigated. In most cases, these symptoms are not serious, but they can signify the early stages of a more serious illness. If you are found to have mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos fibres, you may benefit from greater treatment options with early detection.

Hodge Jones & Allen supports and works with The London Asbestos Support Awareness Group, a charity which provides help to asbestos victims and their families in London and South East England. The charity’s Manager, Jodie Bull commented: “Our caseworkers have been made aware of this disturbing information and like me, have thought long and hard about the products we use on our faces and bodies. It is wrong that this contamination of some of our daily used products can continue and we have all looked through our make-up bags and thrown away potentially dangerous items.

Mesothelioma develops after exposure to asbestos fibres and we see daily, the impact the disease has on affected individuals and their families.”

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