Talcum Powder in Women’s Makeup

By - July 10, 2019
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There have been many headlines in the last few years about talcum powder used in Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder containing asbestos and causing ovarian cancer. For example, in 2017, a Missouri jury told J&J to pay $110 million to a woman from Virginia who claimed her ovarian cancer was caused by using J&J baby powder on her genitals for years. (CBSNews.com)

But talcum powder is used in many other products. For example, talcum powder has been used in women’s makeup for more than 100 years. If you use blush, face powder or eye shadow, you probably will see talcum powder on the ingredient list.

Is makeup that contains talcum powder bad for you? The FDA says talc is generally recognized as safe for use in cosmetics. But what about all these talcum powder cancer lawsuits that are so common in the news today? All of that controversy has some women wondering if using makeup containing talcum powder could eventually cause cancer.

Talc Used in Many Types of Makeup

The use of talc for cosmetics goes back for hundreds of years. In fact, 5,000 years ago, people in Egypt and India were using talc to lighten their skin. The Chinese also used talc mixed with rice powder for makeup.

In the 21st century, talc is a frequent ingredient in blush, foundation, eyeshadow and many other beauty products. Talc, the softest of minerals, gives most makeups a very silky texture that makes it easy to apply and stay on the skin. Talc also is effective at absorbing oil, prevents caking and allows makeup to be more translucent.

Below are some of the makeup products that contain talc:

  • Foundation
  • Concealer
  • Blush
  • Eye shadow
  • Face powder
  • Mascara
  • Rouge
  • Eyeliner
  • Eyebrow pencil
  • Lipstick
  • Moisturizing cream
  • Lotion
  • Face masks

The level of talc that can be in makeup will vary from product to product. Face powders may be 100% talc. Other products, such as spray makeup bases can be 35% talc. You can determine the talc percentage in many makeup products by using the National Library of Medicine’s Household Products Database. (NIH.gov)

Potential Side Effects of Talc in Makeup

Most people have no problems with talc in makeup, but it is possible for this mineral to have side effects. Talc can lead to health problems if it is swallowed or inhaled. Also, if any makeup that has talc in it gets into the eyes, it can lead to redness and eye pain.

Is Talc Safe on the Skin?

Talc does not usually cause any problems for the skin. But talc can cause issues if it gets under your skin through a wound on the skin.

Inhaling Talc

Inhaling cosmetic talc can cause respiratory problems, and in a few documented cases, can even lead to cancer. In 2019, a jury in California found that talcum powder products from Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive probably caused a woman to develop mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a terrible cancer of the lung lining that is only caused by exposure to asbestos.

According to the Alameda County, California jury, it was likely that three cosmetic products contained asbestos that led to the woman’s mesothelioma. The jury found that both companies knew their products could contain asbestos and did not warn the public. They were found guilty of negligence. (People.com)

Does Makeup Containing Talc Cause Cancer?

There is no direct evidence that talc in makeup products can increase your risk of cancer. But as the above case shows, it is possible for talc in some instances to contain asbestos, and if it is breathed into the lungs over time, it can cause mesothelioma.

There also is research showing that talc particles have been found deeply embedded in ovarian cancer tumors of women who used talcum powder on their genitals for years. Some studies have suggested using talc in the genital region can increase the odds of getting ovarian cancer by 30% to 60%. Other studies have not seen this connection, but Johnson & Johnson internal documents released in several lawsuits prove the company was aware for years that some of its talc could contain asbestos.

Is Makeup Talc Carcinogenic?

The debate over the possible link between ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and baby powder is ongoing, and there are many lawsuits pending about this matter. But makeup products that contain talcum powder have not been getting as much media or legal attention.

This could be because of the way most makeups are used. Talcum powder is often applied all over the body, while makeup is usually applied in small amounts on the face.

The WHO has stated that using talcum powder on the genitals could potentially cause cancer in humans. But makeup isn’t often applied in that area, and makeup products are less likely to get into the air when applied.

What If Makeup Is Tainted With Asbestos?

The problem with talc in nature is that occurs near and within asbestos. This can lead to some talc being contaminated with asbestos. For more than 40 years, it has been required for cosmetic talc to be free of asbestos. But what exactly is ‘free of asbestos’? Some sources say it should be 99.9% free, but industry likes to use 99.5%, which means billions of asbestos particles could be in a sample of talc.

A study in 2018 of three makeup products made by Claire’s were found to contain high levels of asbestos. That retailer has since gone bankrupt. Also, a retail clothing store named Justice recalled several makeup products that contained asbestos.

If asbestos is ever inhaled, it can lead to mesothelioma, often decades after exposure. While most people do not apply makeup in large quantities that get into the air, it is still possible for some makeup to contain asbestos, so there is a theoretical risk of cancer by using some makeup products.

If you have been a regular user of various women’s makeup products and are diagnosed with cancer, it is important to have the case reviewed by a talcum powder cancer attorney. It is at least possible that your cancer could have been caused by asbestos exposure. For more information, please contact the law office of Melinda J. Helbock A.P.C.


J&J Baby Powder – Woman’s Terminal Cancer – $12 Million Awarded. (2019). Retrieved from https://people.com/health/johnson-johnson-baby-powder-woman-terminal-cancer-awarded-12-million/

Johnson & Johnson $110 Million Verdict – Biggest Yet Talcum Powder Lawsuit. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/johnson-johnson-110-million-verdict-biggest-yet-talcum-powder-lawsuit/

Household Products Database. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem&id=9

Melinda J.
Melinda J.

Editor-in-Chief of TalcumPowderSafety. Since 1999, she's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more.

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