FDA Surveys Cosmetics for Asbestos


WASHINGTON—Between Sept. 28, 2009 to Sept. 27 2010, FDA conducted an exploratory survey of currently marketed cosmetic-grade raw material talc and some cosmetic products containing talc, as from time to time, the agency has received questions about talc's safety and whether it contains harmful contaminants, such as asbestos.

Talc, a naturally occurring mineral, is used in many cosmetics and personal care products. Asbestos is also a naturally occurring mineral but with a very different crystal structure—a very dangerous one, as it’s a well-know carcinogen. Talc mining sites have to be careful to purify ore sufficiently; otherwise it can become contaminated with asbestos.

Because FDA’s cosmetic laboratories do not have the equipment needed to perform the analyses, they contracted with AMA Analytical Services Inc. (AMA) of Lanham, Md., to conduct the laboratory survey. After identifying cosmetic talc suppliers and talc-containing cosmetic products, the contract laboratory contacted each supplier to request samples of its talc. Of the nine suppliers identified, four complied with the request. Additionally, the agency found talc-containing cosmetic products to analyze by visiting various retail outlets in the Washington metropolitan area. The samples identified for testing included low-, medium- and high-priced products, along with some from “niche" markets, in order to cover as broad a product range as possible. A total of 34 cosmetic products containing talc were selected, including eye shadow, blush, foundation, face powder and body powder. FDA's list of companies was rather comprehensive—from Presperse and Sensient Cosmetic Technologies to Maybelline, Nars, Still and Laura Mercier.

The contract laboratory analyzed the samples using polarized light microscopy (PLM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) methods published by the New York State Department of Health, Environmental Laboratory Approval Program. Each sample was analyzed three times using both methods.

The survey found no asbestos fibers or structures in any of the samples of cosmetic-grade raw material talc or cosmetic products containing talc. The results were limited, however, by the fact that only four talc suppliers submitted samples and by the number of products tested. For these reasons, while FDA finds these results informative, they do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination. FDA said it will continue to monitor for new information and take appropriate actions to protect the public health.

What's interesting about this study isn't so much the results, but rather Asbestos.com's implications of the agency conducting the study covertly—"FDA quietly … ." Amazing how one word can change the entire tone of an article.