Photo by Raphael Lovaski (Courtesy of Unsplash.)

On February 5, the Food and Drug Administration held a public meeting to hear from consumer advocates, industry representatives and testing experts on the subject of testing methods implemented in the detection of asbestos in cosmetic products which contain talc. This is the first time in 50 years that the FDA has examined its cosmetic testing protocols.

Uproar over the use of potentially harmful chemicals in personal care and beauty products began when dozens of women sued consumer goods manufacturer Johnson & Johnson in 2018, claiming their products with talcum powder caused them to develop cancer.

The claim that habitual use of products with talcum powder causes cancer cannot be entirely substantiated. The American Cancer Society states there is little evidence to suggest that long term use of cosmetic products increases cancer risk, but also states that because there are no long-term studies into the subject they “cannot claim that these products will not cause health problems in some people.”

Other health concerns associated with the use of chemical cosmetics include hormone interruption, birth and pregnancy complications, contact dermatitis, steroid-induced acne and mycoses—fungal invasions of the skin tissue. Byproducts of the mixing of these chemicals, called contaminants, also give rise to health concerns because of their toxicity—these include talcum, formaldehyde and coal tar.

Photo by Adrienn (Courtesy of Pexels.)

Then why are some of our staple makeup items still packed with chemicals if they’re potentially unsafe? Chemicals in beauty and personal care products often work as antioxidants, preservatives, stabilizers, fragrance ingredients, plasticizers, solvents, colorants and conditioning agents, among other uses.

A recently released Pharma & Cosmetics Market Growth Report noted a rising demand for natural cosmetics among consumers across the globe. The latest forecast for the Personal Care & Cosmetic Preservatives Market predicts a decrease in the use of traditional preservatives.

Rising awareness of the dangers of chemically produced goods and the benefits of all natural beauty supplements is changing the beauty market. In 2018, Clinique did a complete overhaul in order to make all of their products paraben- and phthalate-free. Haircare company Pantene released a new line of products free of sulfates, silicones, parabens, dyes and mineral oil called Pantene Nutrient Blends in 2020.

Bite Beauty, a Canadian cosmetics company launched in 2012 has captured the lipstick market with its vibrant and edgy shades. Priding itself on being all natural, Bite has licensed toxicologists review all of their ingredients and final products for safety, allergens and efficacy before putting them on the market.

Bite Beauty at Sephora. Photo taken by Emma Misiaszek.

Popular makeup brands such as Physician’s Formula, Pacifica Beauty, Wander Beauty and Burt’s Bees are creating a new market for natural-minded cosmetic connoisseurs.

“I love seeing the way my 16-year-old daughter and her friends think about ingredients—it’s so different than my generation. They’re going to drive what beauty looks like in the future and I already see huge changes because of them.”

Brook Harvey-Taylor, Founder of Pacifica Beauty

Caring about what nutrients we put into our bodies is just as important as knowing what’s really in the mascara, lotion and shampoo we use every day. If you want to put your beauty products to the test, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) offers an online database called Skin Deep—providing ratings of products based on their potential hazards and health concerns.

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