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Asbestos in Children's Makeup: What's the Risk to Your Child?

Dec 28, 2017
Make up brush and make up powder.

Asbestos can be a scary thing. And, in a child’s toy or makeup it can seem especially worrisome. For parents of children who recently heard about a recall of children’s makeup, here’s some information that may be helpful.

How did the asbestos get into the makeup?

Asbestos can be a contaminant of talc and talc (talcum powder) is often an important ingredient of makeup. Talc is a mineral (magnesium silicate) used in many personal care products like baby powder and makeup. When talc is mined it sometimes contains other silicate contaminants (like asbestos).

How does asbestos cause problems and what are they?

Asbestos needs to be inhaled to cause a problem. Asbestos is inert, meaning it doesn’t react to things around it and looks like little tiny needles or fibers. It is not absorbed through the skin and is not a problem if swallowed (ingested). Asbestos particles are solid, so they do not stay in the air for very long.

From contaminated talc or makeup, it is unlikely if much (or any at all), would stay in the air to be inhaled. However, if the particles are inhaled, they can get trapped in the lungs. If the asbestos fibers get trapped in the lungs, nodules form around the fibers (asbestosis).

Most fibers do not get trapped, but are cleared by the lungs in a few days. It is more likely to be a problem if you are a smoker because the lungs can’t clear it as well. If a large amount of nodules form, eventually a type of cancer can form (mesothelioma).

How much asbestos is a problem?

Our bodies have no use for asbestos, so no asbestos is the best answer. But, you generally need to inhale a lot of it and often, or chronically. The main problems come after inhaling levels of asbestos in the air for months or, more commonly, for years. Because asbestos is a solid and falls out of the air pretty quickly, you generally only get these high levels in the air of workplaces associated with asbestos, mining areas and in the dust of some older contaminated buildings (usually during demolition). Asbestos was used as a flame-retardant, so demolition of older building may have asbestos contaminated dust.

How much risk is there to my child if contaminated makeup was used?

The short answer is probably very little or none. While it should never be in any consumer product and certainly not in children’s makeup, unless your child was making large dust clouds from the makeup every day for weeks or months, the amount of asbestos exposure is nearly zero. We do not know the amount of asbestos in these products (how many parts per million or parts per trillion), but it is likely small, as a contaminant from the talc mining. Clearly zero would be better, so there is a valid reason to recall the product.

If you have questions you can call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222. It is free and confidential and they will address any specific questions you might have. Save the number in your cell phone or call for a free magnet with the poison center number and an information packet how to poison proof your home.

Featured Expert

Henry Spiller
Henry Spiller
Central Ohio Poison Center

Henry Spiller is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. He has spent more than 30 years in toxicology, with more than 300 publications in the field.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.