Assessment of Health Risk from Historical Use of Cosmetic Talcum Powder

Risk Analysis

July 9, 2016

Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, Dr. Patrick Sheehan, Ms. Renee Kalmes, and co-author published "Assessment of Health Risk from Historical Use of Cosmetic Talcum Powder," in Risk Analysis.

This study's objective is to assess the risk of asbestos-related disease being contracted by past users of cosmetic talcum powder.  To our knowledge, no risk assessment studies using exposure data from historical exposures or chamber simulations have been published.

We conducted activity-based sampling with cosmetic talcum powder samples from five opened and previously used containers that are believed to have been first manufactured and sold in the 1960s and 1970s. These samples had been subject to conflicting claims of asbestos content; samples with the highest claimed asbestos content were tested. The tests were conducted in simulated-bathroom controlled chambers with volunteers who were talc users.  Air sampling filters were prepared by direct preparation techniques and analyzed by phase contrast microscopy (PCM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) with energy-dispersive x-ray (EDX) spectra, and selective area diffraction (SAED).  

TEM analysis for asbestos resulted in no confirmed asbestos fibers and only a single fiber classified as "ambiguous." Hypothetical treatment of this fiber as if it were asbestos yields a risk of 9.6 × 10−7 (under one in one million) for a lifetime user of this cosmetic talcum powder.  The exposure levels associated with these results range from zero to levels far below those identified in the epidemiology literature as posing a risk for asbestos-related disease, and substantially below published historical environmental background levels.  

The approaches used for this study have potential application to exposure evaluations of other talc or asbestos-containing materials and consumer products.

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