Talc is a key ingredient in many cosmetic products. However, the geological conditions by which talc forms means that deposits can be contaminated with asbestos – a Class 1 carcinogen. The international press have reported asbestos contamination in talc-containing products on several occasions. The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) decided to investigate talc-containing cosmetics on the UK market. HSE researchers were asked to carry this out. Two product categories were chosen: ‘child-appealing’ and low-cost cosmetics.
OPSS provided a product list from a variety of retailers. Approximately half were eyeshadows and half were face powders. Representative sub-samples were prepared for analysis by transmission electron microscopy (TEM).
We analysed samples by TEM at 11 000x magnification, for fibres >0.5µm in length. Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) identified the chemical composition of each fibre, and combined with selected area electron diffraction, identified whether fibres were asbestos, and if so, which type. We calculated the mass percentage of asbestos in the material, based on number, dimensions and type of fibres found.
For 23 of the 24 child-appealing samples and 58 of the 60 low-cost samples analysed, we observed no asbestos fibres. For the remaining child-appealing sample, we found one tremolite asbestos fibre. For the two low-cost samples (both from the same manufacturer), we detected five and three tremolite asbestos fibres.
What were the benefits?
For most talc-containing cosmetic products tested, we detected no asbestos. We found asbestos fibres in three products. We reported all findings to the Office for Product Safety and Standards, providing an important evidence base for their investigation.