If you’re among the millions of conscious consumers who thoroughly analyze the ingredient label before buying your makeup and skincare, you’ve probably seen the words ‘talc-free’ somewhere along the way. While that may have planted the notion that talc is something to be avoided, it’s not really that cut and dry of an issue.
So, what’s the truth about talc in makeup and skincare? The ingredient has been used for its softening properties and absorbency effects since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Today, it’s one of the most common ingredients found in your blushes, eyeshadows, and powder cosmetics. We’ll be exploring issues like is talc bad for your skin and also the potential side effects of talc in makeup, so that you can make an informed decision of whether you’d like to include this ingredient in products of your choice.
WHAT IS TALC?
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that’s chemically known as hydrous magnesium silicate. Mined from the earth, it’s a combination of silicone, oxygen, magnesium, and hydrogen that, together, makeup the softest mineral known to man.
It’s this characteristic that makes it a sought-after ingredient in everything from paint and textiles to skin and hair care products. In fact, you’ll find it in baby powder, feminine hygiene products, body and shower products, deodorants, lotions, makeup, and face masks.
HOW IS TALC USED IN MAKEUP?
Talc is a favorite ingredient of the cosmetic industry for good reason. Also found on your ingredients label as talcum powder or cosmetic talc, it has a number of benefits:
- Helps to keep makeup in place and prevent caking.
- Gives facial makeup an opaque finish.
- Improves the feel of a product to make it softer, silkier, more blendable, etc.
- Absorbs moisture such as sweat or your skin’s natural oils.
But perhaps the biggest factor pushing talc to the top of the ingredients list is that it’s a cheap bulking agent. Meaning that, it’s used as a filler when working with hefty pigments that require dilution. This is what makes talc an important part of blushes and eyeshadows, especially those that contain high concentrations of pigment.
THE TALC CONTROVERSY
When Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million in a lawsuit that claimed 35 years of using their talcum powder caused a woman to die of ovarian cancer, the campaign against talc began in full swing. Other critics of talc claim that it can cause lung cancer. This claim is based on the belief that inhaling products with talc in them may lead to tumors on the lungs.
The concern around talc’s dangerous side effects has more to do with asbestos than talc itself. Like talc, asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral. In fact, talc and asbestos are often found close to each other on the earth. But while cosmetic-grade talc is meant to be safe for human health, asbestos is a known carcinogen – one that can contaminate talc as it’s being mined.
Since the 1960’s, there has been scientific research investigating an association between talcum powders and incidences of ovarian cancer. But none of these studies have proven such a link nor have they come up with substantial evidence about any potential risk factors.
THE BOTTOM LINE: IS TALC IN MAKEUP BAD FOR SKIN?
The grade of talc used by the cosmetics industry is meant to be of the highest purity. At this grade, talc is highly stable, chemically inert, and odorless. It’s mined from talc deposits that are supposed to have no threat of contamination and in such a way that the particles are non-respirable. But for every substance on earth, there is a possibility of contamination.
Generally, beyond the occasional irritation or breakout suffered by people with sensitive or acne-prone skin, the talc used in cosmetics should be considered to be a safe ingredient.
ALTERNATIVES TO TALC IN MAKEUP
If you are someone with sensitive or breakout-prone skin, less is more. And if there’s any potential for causing skin irritation, you should always avoid it – especially when there are alternatives.
In the case of talc, you can look for talc-free products that use ultra-fine mica instead. Mica is another mineral ingredient that’s similar to talc. But, instead of a chalky or matte finish, it finishes with more of a frost or glow. Mica also blends into your skin more seamlessly than talc, so it can dilute color without leaving any of its own pigment behind.
Beyond that, some brands prefer to go talc-free more for aesthetic purposes than safety. Although it helps makeup hold longer, that also means that talc sets and doesn’t move. For people looking for a more natural and glowy look, they may prefer using mica instead.
Although there is yet to be definitive research indicating that talc in makeup is bad for the skin the choice to use it is best left up to what you feel most comfortable with. On one hand, there is such a huge selection of skin and makeup products available that have talc making it easy to choose the perfect formula to suit your needs. On the other, besides yet to be found health hazards, talc-free products offer something that those formulated with talc cannot: more flexibility in movement and breathability as well as a dewy finish that’s preferred by those going for a natural look.