Talc testing: Hunting for asbestos

30-Mar-2022

Following new FDA guidance, Sean Fitzgerald discusses analytical testing to find hidden asbestos in cosmetic talc

Talc testing: Hunting for asbestos

Talc is a very useful naturally-occurring mineral used extensively in the cosmetic industry because of its desirable qualities including softness, silkiness, oil absorption, caking and optical properties.

It is extensively used in blushes, eyeshadows, foundations, body powders and many other beauty products.

However, potential negative health effects regarding talc-containing products have recently made headlines around the world. Why is this, and why does it seem to be a hot topic now?

As it turns out, these questions are not easily answered. So, let us break it down into a chain of events, starting with the scientific basis for why talc use can be bad for you.

Basically, as a natural material from the earth, the mineral talc can contain many different associated minerals and metals, sometimes in concentrations that can be hazardous for the end user.

For example, this list of potential “contaminants” from the earth can include dangerous concentrations of cadmium, chromium, lead, or mercury in talc.

Regarding minerals, free silica and some select fibrous silicates can be found in levels known to pose human health hazards, such as cancer or silicosis. Among these, the most recent concerning findings and media focus have revolved around asbestos in talc.

Specifically, rocks in the earth that form talc are closely related to, or sometimes the same as, the rocks that form asbestos fibres. Because of this close mineralogic relationship between talc and asbestos, it has been recognised that commercial talcum powder products can contain loose asbestos fibres that can be inhaled when those products are used.

This association and potential concern for asbestos presence in talc has been on the radar for miners, millers, mineral resource vendors and talc-containing product manufacturers since asbestos was first recognised as a health concern as early as the 1950s and before.

Testing of talc and talc-containing products for asbestos has gone through fits and starts for several decades, however, with the main focus of testing protocol development and application drawn away by the formerly prevalent use of asbestos intentionally for a myriad of products, mostly building materials such as insulation, floor tiles, boiler materials, cement asbestos boards, or asbestos brakes.

Historically, the focus of analytical testing protocols for asbestos have been specifically designed for qualification and quantification of these commercial applications of asbestos as an ingredient.

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