The Truth About Talc

I cringe when I think back to the crimes against beauty I committed as a young girl: heavy, hot-pink blush and bright blue eyeshadow (worn simultaneously), overzealous lip liner, scary goth eyeliner, several unfortunate perms, and an even more unfortunate mohawk, clipped by a friend practicing for cosmetology school. Keeping it vertical required so much product that my mother once mistook the haze of hairspray in my bedroom for cigarette smoke.

As aesthetically questionable as these looks may have been, I never imagined they could also be hazardous to my health. It didn’t occur to me that my makeup might contain potentially harmful substances, or that I probably shouldn’t indiscriminately inhale things like perm chemicals, hairspray, nail polish remover, and loose powders. 

Fast forward to now, and like a lot of people, I want to know exactly what I’m putting inside and applying to the outside of my body. I’m not a “chemophobe,” or someone who fears all chemicals, just ones known to cause cancer or other health issues. Technically speaking, everything in the world is comprised of chemicals, including people. But more and more, when buying, well, anything, I pay attention to ingredient lists, sourcing, sustainability, environmental impact, and brand accountability and transparency. And I try to keep my diet and beauty regimens as clean and cruelty-free as possible. 

So when Victoria Beckham announced she was starting her beauty brand, I was excited. I knew from social media that she too is a beauty junkie, always on the hunt for cosmetics and creams that are efficacious, luxurious and responsibly crafted. But like a lot of consumers, (including me, a seasoned beauty and wellness professional), Beckham found that the plethora of information- and misinformation- surrounding the concepts of clean and natural beauty could be confusing. Especially since not all natural ingredients are safe, and not all synthetic ones are unsafe. 

Take talc, for example, which appears in some of Victoria Beckham Beauty’s upcoming products. Talc is a naturally occurring, a super-soft mineral often used in color cosmetics to enhance a product’s feel, luster or sheen. Properly sourced, cosmetic-grade talc is considered safe by entities like the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which gave it “GRAS” (generally recognized as safe) status, and Health Canada, whose talc assessment didn’t find health risks from dermal or inhalation exposures from pressed powders like eye shadow or blush. But the powdery substance has garnered negative connotations in recent years thanks to a series of class-action lawsuits suggesting a correlation between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder (specifically Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder) in women’s hygiene.

Talc on its own isn’t so much the problem. But it’s often found in the earth near deposits of asbestos, a known carcinogen. So if talc mining sites are not selected carefully and proper steps aren’t taken to purify the ore sufficiently, it can be contaminated with asbestos. This past year, two large cosmetics retailers recalled products found in random FDA testing to contain trace amounts of asbestos. Clearly, quality control is essential.

According to its new website, (which lists and explains each ingredient used in its formulations), Victoria Beckham Beauty products not only comply with stringent EU cosmetic standards but exclude more than 30 additional potentially harmful ingredients. Talc is on the company’s “watchlist,” ingredients actively monitored to ensure they are used safely and responsibly. “We only work with manufacturers that source the mineral from companies who properly mine the ore and test and certify that their talc is free from asbestos fibers,” says Keri Biddiscombe of Victoria Beckham Beauty research and development. “Any contamination is easily distinguishable by X-ray diffraction, and optical and electron microscopy.” 

Ultimately, you should only buy products from brands you trust, and knowledge is of course power. “It’s important to educate consumers on common beauty misperceptions, talc being a perfect example,” says Biddiscombe. “Early asbestos-analyzing methods led to erroneous results, which cultivated the notion that talc was a ‘dirty’ and dangerous raw material. However, it’s been studied extensively in the modern scientific community, and concluded to be safe for use in cosmetics, food and even pharmaceuticals.” 

Safe and sexy. The velvety texture and “slip” factor that talc lends color cosmetics is seriously helpful when it comes to preventing creasing and caking, especially around the eyes. And if you’re north of 35, like me, you know how important this is. Especially if your beauty-regimen guilty pleasure still happens to be bright blue eyeshadow