The question on many women’s minds right now: Should I avoid talcum powder in my makeup and skincare products?
Talcum powder has been used in cosmetics and body products for decades due to its highly absorbent and anti-caking nature. You’ll often find it in finishing powders and we all know it as the base ingredient in baby powder. Your grandmother probably loved dusting it on her body after a shower and there is little doubt you would have been covered in it as a baby. But this may be about to change.
A recent ruling by a US judge awarded the family of an American woman who died of ovarian cancer, $72m in compensation. The woman had used talc as a bathroom staple for decades and although various studies linking talc directly to ovarian cancer are inconclusive the ruling was based on evidence of an internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies risks” between “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “Denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary” – a very compelling argument for leaving talc on the shelf. Interestingly this is not the first time the company has had to defend its ingredients. After years of threatened boycotts and petitions Johnson & Johnson agreed to remove 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products by 2015. Albeit not all the ingredients I’d like to see excluded from their formulations, but it’s a start.
I think for most of us interested in the natural beauty sector, the practice of covering our bodies with talc after showering ceased back when we ditched the parabens and SLS, but talc does still crop up in make-up and dry shampoos – even the certified natural kind. Other than the ‘hygiene’ risk, additional fears exist over talc being tainted with asbestos. However, cosmetic grade talc, often referred to as ‘clean’ talc, has to adhere to purity requirements, and is tested by X-ray to ensure it meets these standards. Other studies show that talc may have implications on lung conditions via repeated inhalation, but most of these studies were carried out on people working in the mining industry. When I opened Content in 2008 I did so with a strict no talc rule. However, as it has cleaned up its act and has been allowed in formulations under some natural certification standards, we have stocked a few make-up products (no body or hair products) which adhere to the above guidelines.
With some careful product consideration you can ensure you are either avoiding talc altogether or being smart about your choices. My advice if you find yourself tempted by the perfect eye shadow colour or matte-finishing powder, only to discover it contains talc, is to follow these guidelines:
- Look for products that are certified natural and/or organic. This not only ensures the talc is cosmetic grade but has the bonus of being checked for impurities such as asbestos, by the third party certification body.
- Ensure it is in a pressed format. Pressed powders and eye shadows as opposed to loose powders ensure inhalation is kept to a minimum.
- Don’t use it on your body or your baby – non-negotiable.
For those of us that want to avoid it altogether, it’s easily done. Many natural and organic beauty brands use alternatives such as silica, arrowroot, cassava root and cornflower to achieve a similar mattifying effect without the potential risks. The products may not be as cheap as talc, but then what price does one put on long-term health?
Talc Free Alternatives
- Dry Shampoo – Rahua have cleverly combined cassava root with Fullers Earth Cosmetic Clay to make a very effective (in fact my favourite) dry shampoo.
- Loose Finishing Powder – W3LL People have created a talc-free finishing powder from a base of arrowroot and cornflower, while Rms Beauty has a talc-free mattifying powder made from pure silica.
Baby Powder – Many baby care ranges have talc-free baby powders but you can easily turn your hand to making your own. Just blend equal parts of white Kaolin clay and arrowroot powder with 4 drops each of lavender and chamomile essential oils (if the baby is over 3 months old). Then decant into a clean spice bottle with a shaker lid or an old powder shaker for ease of use. Voila! Talc-free and home-made.