New warning shows why cosmetic regulations need a makeover.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Tuesday that certain cosmetic products sold by Claire’s and Justice retailers contained asbestos.
The FDA first learned of reports claiming that some of these items caused unsafe and adverse side effects in users back in 2017.
By the end of the year, both Justice and Claire’s had pulled a handful of products — including shimmer powder, eye shadow, and lip gloss — from the shelves.
Third-party testing initially found the products to be contaminated. To confirm these claims, the FDA conducted tests to figure out if these items did, in fact, contain asbestos.
The FDA published the results of the tests Tuesday, confirming that three products from Claire’s and one from Justice tested positive for asbestos.
The FDA requested Claire’s to recall the contaminated products, but Claire’s has refused.
The company has removed the items from stores and will honor returns of any talc-based products, according to a statement issued by Claire’s.
The company took issue with the FDA warning in their statement, saying that they found issues with the FDA testing and how they classified asbestos.
“There is no evidence that any products sold by Claire’s are unsafe. In early 2018, the three items identified by the FDA were extensively tested by multiple independent accredited laboratories, and all products were found to be compliant with all relevant cosmetic safety regulations,” said the company in their press release.
Because the FDA doesn’t have the authority to mandate a recall, the agency issued a safety alert urging consumers to not using certain eye shadows, powders, and contouring kits sold by Claire’s.
Justice had already recalled the flagged items in 2017.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral and known carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer.
Originally used to make construction products, car parts, and electrical material, asbestos has been linked to serious diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining that wraps around the lung), and asbestosis (a scarring within the lung that causes respiratory issues). It’s been associated with cancers of the throat and digestive tract as well.
Short-term exposure to asbestos doesn’t pose a huge health threat, experts say. It’s the long-term exposure of asbestos to be wary of. The effects typically don’t occur for about 10 to 40 years after initial exposure.
As of now, there’s no known safe level of asbestos exposure. In general, the material should be avoided whenever possible.
“The concern is largely going to be that the use of these products can potentially create a situation where the asbestos fiber becomes airborne — you can’t see asbestos fibers, you can’t smell them, you can’t taste them — so there is no way for a consumer to know that asbestos is present,” Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, said.
“Without being able to see it, once it’s airborne it can be inhaled and then you’ve got asbestos exposure,” Spaeth added.
When it comes to cosmetics products, asbestos is largely related to the presence of talc, a clay mineral comprised of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Talc is used in a ton of cosmetics, like foundation and lipstick, to absorb moisture.
Unless a product including talc, aka talcum powder, is specifically tested for contamination, there’s no way to know for sure if asbestos is present or not, Spaeth explained. There can be asbestos-free talc, however, the risk of asbestos contamination in talc is high.
Over the past decade, the cosmetic industry has undergone a rapid transformation. Consumers have more cosmetics options to choose from now than ever before, the FDA stated, but with the massive changes comes much risk and uncertainty.
The law that oversees the FDA’s regulation of cosmetics, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), has not been updated since 1938, when it was enacted. The FD&C Act does not require the FDA to review and approve cosmetics before they’re sold to consumers. As a result, cosmetics companies aren’t legally obligated to test their products for safety before they go to market.
“We need to modernize cosmetics regulation in the United States,” Dr. Steve Xu, a board-certified dermatologist and instructor in the department of dermatology at Northwestern University, told Healthline. “While the vast majority of manufacturers operate at a high level of production excellence, we don’t go very long before there’s another public health scare from cosmetics.”
According to Xu, manufacturers should be required to forward consumer complaints related to their products to the FDA immediately so any problems can be detected as soon as possible. Furthermore, the FDA should have the power to mandate recalls, Xu believes.
Looking forward, the FDA plans to start working with manufacturers to ensure their procedures and products are safe. The agency is specifically interested in how cosmetics companies are sourcing and using talc, and whether or not they test it for asbestos.
Though it’s not legally required, the FDA is also asking cosmetics companies to voluntarily register their products and list out all ingredients, including talc.
“The burden of having safe products shouldn’t fall to the consumer who has to maneuver through the labyrinth of all these chemicals and potential contaminants,” Spaeth said. “It really ought to be arriving on the shelves as a safe product.”
If you do experience a cosmetic-related adverse reaction, you or your healthcare provider should report it to the FDA’s MedWatch reporting system or a consumer complaint coordinator.
The FDA confirmed Tuesday that multiple products sold by Claire’s and Justice retailers contained asbestos. The agency is urging consumers to stop using the contaminated products, as asbestos exposure has been linked to many harmful health risks.