The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has once again found asbestos in children’s makeup products.
National cosmetics and accessories retailer Clair’s /zigman2/quotes/203829595/composite APO -4.07% and makeup company Beauty Plus Global issued recalls last week after the FDA found the cancer-causing toxin in some products.
The FDA warned consumers on Thursday not to use Claire’s JoJo Siwa Makeup Set (SKU #888711136337, Batch/Lot No. S180109), and Beauty Plus Global’s Contour Effects Palette 2 (Batch No. S1603002/PD-C1179) which both tested positive for asbestos.
“Claire’s Stores, Inc. has voluntarily recalled the JoJo Cosmetic Kit out of an abundance of caution after testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated the possible presence of trace amounts of asbestos fibers in the powder eyeshadow element of the kit,” Melanie Berry, a spokeswoman for Claire’s, said in an emailed statement Friday. “Claire’s stands behind the safety of this item and all other Claire’s cosmetic items, as such small trace amounts are considered acceptable under European and Canadian cosmetic safety regulations.”
Claire’s said it also started making talc-free cosmetics last year, and removed the remaining talc (which can contain asbestos and is known to cause cancer ) cosmetic lines from stores to prevent contamination.
Beauty Plus Global did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Claire’s recall comes three months after the FDA found asbestos in three other makeup products. Claire’s disputed the findings at the time, but pulled items from store shelves. That recall was for batches of Claire’s Eye Shadows, Claire’s Compact Powder and Claire’s Contour Palette, sold between October 2016 and March 2019. And asbestos was also found in a product sold at Justice, a children’s clothing and accessories retailer, around the same time.
Some members of Congress want to make it harder for makeup companies to cover up contaminated children’s cosmetics. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, introduced a bill in March that would require warning labels on makeup marketed to children that could contain asbestos.
The FDA found asbestos in another product from Claire’s and Beauty Plus Global.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the nonprofit watchdog Environmental Working Group, told MarketWatch that companies would have to show that their cosmetics were free of the toxin under the proposed bill.
If a company couldn’t prove that kids’ makeup is asbestos-free, it would have to issue a warning to consumers of potential contamination. The bill would also require companies that market makeup for customers under the age of 18 to label products with the following statement: “Warning: Talc in this product has not been evaluated for asbestos contamination. Asbestos may be present.”
Faber says asbestos can be found in talc, a clay mineral used in powder form for facial powders, eyeshadow and baby powder. Talc and asbestos can be formed from the same rock, and as a result, the powder can become contaminated with asbestos fibers. The EWG tested 2,000 different cosmetics products that were on sale in the last three years and found that more than 1,000 were made with talc. “Even the best detection methods can’t guarantee a product is free of asbestos,” Faber said.
In March, J&J was ordered to pay $29 million to an Oakland woman who claimed its baby powder gave her terminal cancer.
Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.04% has faced at least 13,000 lawsuits around the country claiming its Johnson’s Baby Powder and other talc products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. The company received subpoenas from the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission in February seeking documents related to the safety concerns of its baby powder and other items containing talc.
J&J did not respond to request for comment, but said decades of testing has shown its baby powder is safe and free of asbestos and asserted it does not cause cancer. In March, J&J was ordered to pay $29 million to an Oakland, Calif. woman who claimed its baby powder gave her terminal cancer.
Consumer watchdogs have argued that much more stringent regulation of the personal care products industry is sorely needed. “Asbestos in kid’s cosmetics is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Janet Nudelman, director of policy for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Lawmakers seem to have taken notice. In March, a separate bill from California State Assembly members Al Muratsuchi (D.-Torrance) and Buffy Wicks (D.-Oakland), proposed to ban the use of 20 highly toxic chemicals including mercury, lead and formaldehyde — among others known to cause cancer or reproductive harm — in makeup sold in California.
The FDA currently doesn’t have the authority to recall cosmetics products
The asbestos found in makeup products sold by Claire’s and Justice highlighted the relatively weak regulations in the U.S. around personal care products including cosmetics, soaps and shampoos, consumer safety advocates say.
“Under the current law, companies don’t have to prove that their ingredients or products are safe before they go on store shelves,” said Nneka Leiba, director of healthy living science at the Environmental Working Group. “The FDA has no authority to issue recalls or to force companies to issue recalls.”
‘You pretty much have to have a Ph.D. in chemistry to read a lot of these labels and know what it means for your health.’
— Nneka Leiba, director of healthy living science at the Environmental Working Group
When the FDA found asbestos in three products sold by Claire’s in March, the retailer initially refused to comply with the agency’s request for a recall, an FDA spokeswoman told MarketWatch. Consequently, the FDA’s only option was to issue a “Safety Alert” warning the public not to use the products that the agency’s testing showed had asbestos.
Claire’s maintained in March that it found no evidence of asbestos in the products through independent testing it performed. “Despite our efforts to discuss these issues with the FDA, they insisted on moving forward with their release,” a spokeswoman said in an email at the time. “We are disappointed that the FDA has taken this step, and we will continue to work with them to demonstrate the safety of our products.”
In other instances, companies have opted to disregard the FDA’s requests entirely. The FDA issued a “safety alert” in 2011 that Brazilian Blowout, a hair-smoothing treatment, contained formaldehyde despite labels that claimed the opposite was true . An investigation conducted by ABC News months later found that salons were still using the product, and some hair stylists were not even aware that the product contained formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. (Brazilian Blowout did not respond to a request for comment.)
“There is a history of this approach not working for the FDA when it comes to protecting consumer health,” Nudelman said. “They need to have regulatory mandate to issue recalls in the same way as they can do so with food or pharmaceuticals.”
Asbestos can contaminate cosmetics like facial powders and eye shadows
An estimated 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-triggered diseases, according to an analysis of federal mortality data by The Environmental Working Group Action Fund . There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, according to the federal government. Even exposure to the smallest amounts for as little as few days can cause mesothelioma, an incurable cancer, and other hazardous diseases.
Nudelman described cosmetics safety as “the Wild West.” The legislation that currently governs regulation of cosmetics and other personal care products dates back to 1938.
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, according to the federal government.
Currently, no beauty products except for color additives require FDA approval before being sold. Altogether, the U.S. only bans 12 chemicals or other harmful substances from being used in personal care products –– asbestos and formaldehyde are not on that list. Comparatively, Europe bans thousands of substances.
In 2017, The Personal Care Products Safety Act was proposed by U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Susan Collins (R. Maine), to give the FDA the power to regulate the safety in cosmetics products. The Personal Care Products Safety Act would require companies to publish a complete list of ingredients online and print one on product labels. The bill would also empower the FDA to order recalls of questionable products.
The bill received support from a beauty giants like Estée Lauder /zigman2/quotes/200740220/composite EL +0.71% , L’Oreal /zigman2/quotes/203477983/composite LRLCY +0.49% and Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.04%
Some proponents of cosmetics safety argue that this legislation does not go far enough. “It does a number of things well,” Nudelman said. “But it’s a bill that industry can stomach and doesn’t go far enough to actually change the status quo.”
Nudelman said the involvement of manufacturers is one reason why the bill hasn’t yet become law.
How consumers can protect themselves
As things stand now, it can be very difficult for a consumer to know what ingredients were used in their makeup and other personal care products and whether it could be contaminated with harmful substances. “You pretty much have to have a Ph.D. in chemistry to read a lot of these labels and know what it means for your health,” Leiba said.
The Environmental Working Group maintains the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which includes information on the ingredients and manufacturing processes for thousands of personal-care products. EWG’s staff scientists compare the ingredients on the labels with information regarding the toxicity of the substances and then creates a safety rating for each product.
Outside of conferring with this database, consumers are basically on their own when it comes to assessing whether a product is safe or not. Concerned shoppers can consult with a doctor to get advice as to whether a product will be harmful to their health.
As for children’s cosmetics, Nudelman advised parents not buy products that contain talc whatsoever unless they call and confirm with the company that it has strong processes in place to prevent asbestos contamination. “This is a pretty big ask of consumers,” she said.
This story was originally published on March 21, 2019 and updated on June 7, 2019.