Another great asbestos article by the Times (paywall), this time on a subject I’ve raised a couple of times in the past – asbestos exposure from makeup. Katherine Quarmby and Andrew Ellson’s story reveals that over 100 British women suffering from mesothelioma are currently taking on American cosmetic giants to get compensation.
A bit of background. Talc is a mineral that is mined out of the ground. What is not so widely known is that it’s chemically fundamentally the same as asbestos. The mineral develops into asbestos or talc according to slightly different geological conditions. In fact most talc mines also contain asbestos deposits and some fibres even start at one end as talc and end up asbestos. The low-tech nature of mining for talc has inevitably led to contamination of the supply chain.
What’s also not so widely known is that talc is not just sold as talc and in baby powders. Many brands and types of makeup use the mineral as a key ingredient. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find eye-shadow, foundation or blusher that doesn’t contain it.
The article highlights that the latest UK statistics showed a 7% increase in women being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a faster rise than in the previous eight years. New cases in women have doubled since the early 1990s, while they’ve ‘only’ increased by about half in men.
The Times doesn’t draw a direct line between these alarming numbers and makeup, but the latest HSE statistics indicate that only around a third of female diagnoses are linked to occupational exposure, or living with a partner who was exposed.
It does seem the potential for asbestos contamination in talc has been known by these companies for decades. But setting that to one side for a moment, we certainly know it now, and we know that talc in makeup presents a health risk. Whilst we haven’t yet quantified the level of risk, the regulations state that there shouldn’t be any. There are safe and cheap alternatives, such as corn starch. Which begs the question: why does talc’s use persist?
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