February 4, 2020, the FDA held a public hearing on testing methodology for asbestos in
talc and cosmetics. This is the first time the FDA has held a public hearing
on the matter for nearly 50 years.
Since the 1970s, the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration and
the Environmental Protection Agency have limited their oversight to asbestos
in the workplace and environment. As a result, the cosmetics industry
has largely been left to police itself. Although talc and asbestos are
similar minerals, often found together, the FDA has never required manufacturers
of talc products to test for the carcinogen.
Public concern over asbestos in talc was ignited by a December 2018 Reuters News
Investigative Report finding that Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) knew for decades
its iconic Baby Powder contained asbestos, but concealed this knowledge
from the public.
Spurred by public response to these revelations, the FDA tested cosmetic
talc products and found asbestos in numerous products, many of which are
marketed to children and young teens. In October 2019, the FDA announced
that its testing found asbestos in
Johnson’s Baby Powder.
At the February 4 hearing, a panel of government experts, citing the recent
FDA findings, recommended much more stringent testing standards to protect
the public from cancer-causing asbestos in talc.
Not surprisingly, the panel’s recommendations were met with strong
resistance from the cosmetics industry—which still ignores that
asbestos in talc is a legitimate concern and is never at a loss for an
“excuse” for findings of asbestos in cosmetic talc. For example,
even after recalling 33,000 bottles of its Baby Powder following the FDA’s
finding of asbestos contamination in October 2019, J&J incredulously
“blamed” the asbestos on a faulty air conditioner in the FDA lab!
Another “excuse” frequently cited by J&J and industry representatives
is that the asbestos found in talc is “not really” asbestos,
but instead non-asbestiform mineral particles.
Clearly aware of this tactic, the government experts recommending more
stringent testing at the February 4 hearing, also recommended that all
mineral particles found in talc products small enough to be drawn into
the lungs, even those the industry would not technically categorize as
asbestos, should be counted as harmful. The government experts noted that
both asbestos and allegedly look-alike minerals are suspected of causing
“similar pathological outcomes,” so the “distinction
The hearing concluded with no formal action by the FDA, only an announcement
that government experts from the FDA and other agencies will continue
studying the issues. But a significant take-away from the meeting is that,
after nearly 50 years, the FDA appears to be finally standing up to the
powerful cosmetics industry in addressing long-overdue changes to testing
for asbestos in talc.