THE Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) calls on the Health Ministry to reconsider its decision not to ban talcum powder and talc-based products, as new studies have shown that talc is hazardous to health.
In a study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group in the United States and published on Nov 24 in the journal Environmental Health Insights, researchers found asbestos in 15% of 21 talc-based cosmetics samples analysed using electron microscopy. The researchers said that the industry’s current method of screening voluntarily for the carcinogen is inadequate (bit.ly/talc_study).
Talc is added to powder-based products, such as eye shadow, blush and foundation, to achieve a smooth texture and to dilute colours in some pigmented cosmetics. Talc is naturally soft and able to absorb moisture to reduce the appearance of oily skin. It can also be deadly.
“Inhaling even the tiniest amount of asbestos in talc can cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases many years after exposure, ” said Tasha Stoiber, one of the study’s co-authors. “How much talc is inhaled – and how much is contaminated with asbestos – is hard to know, but it only takes one asbestos fibre lodged in the lungs to cause mesothelioma decades later.”
(Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining covering the surface of some of the body’s organs.) Loose talc in cosmetics is especially concerning because it can be more easily inhaled in this form than solid, pressed powders. When inhaled, talc fibres can lodge in the lungs and cause pulmonary fibrosis, i.e. scar tissue build-up that causes breathing difficulty.
Asbestos and talc minerals are often found side by side in the earth, which can cause contamination in cosmetic products. Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma.
A paper by Moline et al (published in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine) provides evidence of 33 mesothelioma cases attributable to asbestos-contaminated cosmetic talc powder usage.
Emory et al (in a paper published in the June issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine) reported 75 additional individuals with malignant mesothelioma whose only known exposure was cosmetic talc – this is further evidence that cosmetic talc should be considered a probable cause of mesothelioma.
The primary component in talcum powder is magnesium silicate hydroxide (commonly known as talc). Talc, which is similar to asbestos in composition, is found in baby powder, eye shadow, blush and
deodorant. Though talc is widely used in cosmetics, the possibility of asbestos-free talc being carcinogenic has prompted the European Union to ban talc-based cosmetics altogether.
Recently, healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson announced that it will stop selling talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States and Canada. Civil society groups have called out this double standard and said the company must stop selling it worldwide. The Reuters news agency reported on June 9 that cosmetics brands Chanel, Revlon and L’Oreal have discontinued using talc in some products as US cancer lawsuits and consumer concerns mount. The article also stated that German company Beiersdorf AG switched to corn starch in its Nivea baby powder in 2018.
In Malaysia, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, with 500 cases diagnosed each year. It’s a common cancer among women above 50 years old. Ovarian cancer is known as particularly deadly because it is a “silent” cancer that is often only detected in the final stages.
Talc particles are capable of moving up the reproductive system and becoming embedded in the lining of the ovary. Talc also poses a major risk to our lungs as tiny particles may easily work their way into them. It has also been linked to causing asthma in children. Talc is used on babies because it absorbs moisture but exposing children to this carcinogen is unnecessary and dangerous.
In view of the dangers associated with talc and products containing talc, CAP reiterates its call to the Health Ministry to ban talc-based products. Meanwhile, we advise consumers to use powder made from corn or rice flour and ointments instead of medicated powders for rashes in babies.
FATHIMA MOHD IDRIS
Vice president, Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)
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