In recent years, a growing number of make-up products have been found to contain asbestos – which inevitably leads to the question of why it is there, and how to avoid it.
Over the last few years, the increasing number of cosmetic items found to have been contaminated includes the MUA palette ‘Silent Disco’, which was discontinued in 2019. The line, sold in Superdrug and aimed at a youthful audience, was found to contain traces of asbestos and was featured in the BBC3 documentary Beauty Laid Bare, broadcast early in 2020.
In the show, products were ordered straight from the MUA website and sent to a private asbestos laboratory in the US for asbestos testing. Following this asbestos sampling, it was found that the mineral was present in three of the wells in a ‘Silent Disco’ MUA eyeshadow palette.
In another high-profile example of make-up containing asbestos, High Street accessories chain Claire’s (which also targets younger customers) removed some cosmetics from its stores after some samples tested positive in the US for tremolite asbestos, including eyeshadow and compact powder.
Once a popular building material but banned in new buildings in the UK for more than 20 years, asbestos can of course lead to a string of serious, potentially fatal diseases, some of which may only affect you years or even decades later. These include mesothelioma, a cancer affecting the lungs’ lining, asbestos-related lung cancer and scarring of the lungs, or asbestosis. Another problem can be pleural thickening or a swelling of the lining of the lung.
The reality is that even a tiny trace of asbestos in a cosmetic product means that the product is potentially, extremely unsafe.
How Does Asbestos End Up In Makeup?
One of the main reasons for make-up containing asbestos is that many powdered makeup products are based on talc, a mineral comprising silicon, oxygen and magnesium, which tends to occur in nature close to where asbestos forms, near the earth’s surface. So talcum powder can potentially become contaminated with microscopic asbestos fibres once it has been mined.
Why Is Talc Used In Cosmetic Products & Makeup?
There are many reasons why talcum is used more widely in make-up products than you may have realised, from powder compacts to blushers, foundations and eye shadows, and sometimes even lipsticks. (And this practice has a long history.)
For a start, no mineral on the planet is softer; it has a silky feel and readily absorbs moisture and makes skin look less oily. What’s more, it can fill out an item of make-up or dilute products that have pigments. Finally, in a creamy foundation, it can help ‘set’ the product so that it remains in place and looks dry rather than greasy or shiny.
Does All Talc Contain Asbestos?
Not every talc deposit will be contaminated, and studies on the links between cancer and talcum exposure have not been conclusive. Equally, current research suggests pure talc doesn’t lead to mesothelioma. However, there is no doubt of the connection between contaminated talc and cancer.
A 2019 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported case studies of 33 mesothelioma patients who had only been exposed to asbestos through tainted talc. Additionally, in the US, there have been a number of multi-million dollar lawsuits on this issue.
What Can I do to Avoid Makeup Containing Asbestos?
One decent rule of thumb is to make sure you only buy from trusted brands. Don’t buy from unknown eBay sellers, for example, where you can’t be sure the item is genuine.
Another way to avoid make-up containing asbestos is, of course, to read the ingredients list carefully before you purchase anything and avoid any products which contain talc.
And the good news is that talc alternatives are increasingly available, from products based on corn starch, zinc oxide, boron nitrate or silica to natural options such as cosmetics containing rice powder, oat flour or silk powder.
Some beauty brands, including British label Charlotte Tilbury, now avoid talc altogether in their products. Last year, Reuters reported that three of the best-known names in American beauty, Chanel, Revlon and L’Oréal, have, in recent years, been turning to talc-free alternatives.
Meanwhile, industry giant Johnson & Johnson announced, within the last couple of years, that it was withdrawing its world-famous baby powder from sale in North America. The company was facing thousands of lawsuits to do with potential cross-contamination and its connection with a number of different cancers.
Looking for Asbestos Testing and Sampling for Cosmetic Products?
At Core Surveys we have our own United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredited asbestos laboratory to provide quick and cost-effective in-house asbestos testing. We provide this asbestos as a one-off or regular service, and can also carry out asbestos sampling in bulk.
Get in touch today if you have any concerns about make-up containing asbestos.
Asbestos in makeup FAQs
When was asbestos banned in makeup in the United Kingdom?
Asbestos was banned in all cosmetics, including makeup products, in the United Kingdom in 1999.
What are the risks associated with asbestos in makeup?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen, meaning that it can cause cancer. Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory diseases. When asbestos fibres are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs and other organs, leading to chronic inflammation and scarring.
Can asbestos-containing makeup products still be found on store shelves today?
Some asbestos-containing makeup products may still be found on store shelves today, particularly those that were manufactured before the ban in 1999. Additionally, some imported cosmetics may contain asbestos, as other countries may not have the same regulations regarding the use of asbestos.
What should consumers do to protect themselves from asbestos in makeup?
Consumers can take steps to protect themselves by being vigilant about the products they use. The UK government recommends avoiding using any cosmetics that appear to be old or have been stored for a long time and being cautious about using cosmetics that have been imported from other countries. If you suspect a product may contain asbestos, you can contact the relevant authorities such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to report the product and request that it be tested for asbestos.
What should I do if I have used asbestos-containing cosmetics in the past and am experiencing symptoms?
If you have used asbestos-containing cosmetics in the past and are experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or a persistent cough, you should seek medical attention. Additionally, if you suspect that a product may contain asbestos, you can contact the relevant authorities such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to report the product and request that it be tested for asbestos.
What are the symptoms of asbestos exposure?
Symptoms of asbestos exposure can include shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough, and hoarseness. Additionally, asbestos exposure can also lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory diseases. It’s important to note that symptoms may not appear until years after exposure.
Can asbestos fibres be removed from makeup products?
Asbestos fibres cannot be removed from makeup products once they are present. Therefore, it’s important to avoid using products that may contain asbestos.
Is there a way to test cosmetics for asbestos?
Yes, cosmetics can be tested for asbestos by a qualified laboratory using polarized light microscopy. Consumers can contact the relevant authorities such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to report a product and request that it be tested for asbestos.
Does the UK government have any regulations on asbestos in products?
Yes, the UK government has regulations on asbestos in products, including a ban on its use in cosmetics and makeup products in 1999. Additionally, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for enforcing the regulations and ensuring that products on the market do not contain asbestos.