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Asbestos was widely used for decades as a common additive in building materials until we discovered its potentially severe health effects. Since then its use in manufacturing has been limited… but popcorn ceilings in homes built in the 1960s aren’t the only place asbestos could be lurking.

Throughout the last several years, cosmetic and personal care products have tested positive for asbestos. News coverage of this toxin has been mounting

What is Asbestos and How Does It Get In Your Makeup?

Asbestos can pollute talcum-based beauty products. Both naturally occurring in the same areas, talc and asbestos are mined near each other, which often leads to cross-contamination.

Talc powder is a popular base in cosmetics. Makeup regulations in the US do not require companies to test their products for potential hazards, which is why asbestos won’t be on your ingredient label alongside talc. While most products with talc do not test positive for asbestos, it can occur. This is also why some companies disclose possible exposure risks. Without testing, detecting asbestos is almost impossible. The lightweight fibers may be curly and pliable or shorter and needle-like, but their fibrous quality makes them fragile. Fragments can become airborne when disrupted.

Recalls can make the public feel safer about the products they buy, though even minimal exposure to asbestos can be dangerous.

What are the Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure?

Conditions stemming from asbestos exposure are referred to as asbestos-related diseases. Patients often have long-lasting symptoms that can appear decades after they were first exposed.

Cosmetics are especially risky for asbestos contact, as application is close to the mouth and nose. Mesothelioma, or tumors of the lining of organs, is one of the diseases that can occur after inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers. The most notable symptoms of an asbestos-related disease are unexplained weight loss, difficulty breathing, fluid buildup, wheezing, and loss of appetite.

Are There Safer Alternatives?

There are better alternatives to talc that do not pose asbestos concerns:

  • Zinc oxide: This powder-like mineral works as a sun protectant. It may be added into makeup products, acting similarly to talcum powder.
  • Rice powder: The primary purpose of rice powder is to limit excessive oil production on the skin. For this reason, it can be a substitute for talc in oil-controlling cosmetics.
  • Tapioca starch: You may notice this ingredient is also in food because it thickens and enhances texture. In makeup, tapioca starch can provide a gel texture, and help the product adhere and improve the skin.
  • Kaolin: Also providing absorbency, kaolin is a good substitute for talc in face powders, creams, blush, and foundations. It gives the makeup long-lasting properties and can reduce wrinkles and fine lines.

How to Avoid Asbestos Products

Many people wonder if they should stop purchasing talc-based products altogether. While the risk is relatively low, it is there.

But good news: cleaner beauty is on the rise. Asbestos is just one of the many toxins that can get into cosmetics. Learning about and discerning clean beauty can help protect you.