Talc-free is the new paraben-free

Shunned by clean beauty purveyors for years, talc has gained recent mainstream attention as an ingredient to avoid.

A report last week by Reuters found that Chanel, Revlon and L’Oréal are removing talc from their products following Johnson & Johnson’s announcement on May 19 that it would be discontinuing talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada. In its announcement, Johnson & Johnson cited “declining demand,” due to what it called a “constant barrage of litigation advertising.” The brand has faced thousands of lawsuits related to talc and cancer, as have Chanel, Avon and Revlon, according to Reuters. The most high-profile case against Johnson & Johnson occurred in 2018, when a court awarded $4.69 billion to a group of 22 women who filed the suit stating that asbestos in the baby powder had caused cancer. The public consciousness around the health concerns of talc was heightened last year as the FDA issued warnings about asbestos found in talc cosmetics products, including Claire’s eyeshadows by teen and tween influencer Jojo Siwa.

“Revlon products are formulated and tested according to the highest safety and quality standards. We have removed talc from our body products and, in our products containing talc, Revlon only uses cosmetic grade talc that has been certified asbestos-free,” the company said in a statement via email. Chanel, L’Oréal and Johnson & Johnson did not respond to requests for comment. 

Talc is still extremely common in mainstream beauty products. Among premium beauty brands at Sephora, Giorgio Armani Beauty, Dior, Marc Jacobs Beauty, Givenchy and Guerlain are among those selling face powder with the ingredient, which is also found in many other types of powder-based products like NARS’ cult Orgasm blush.

But increased concerns over talc could be a boost for clean color cosmetics brands that have kept the ingredient out of their lineups. Talc is among the ingredients banned by clean beauty retailer Credo Beauty. Clean color brand Lawless Beauty, founded in 2017, does not use talc in its products and has a product dubbed “Make Me Blush Talc-Free Velvet Blush.” 

“Every single thing that we’ve ever released has been completely talc-free, and I feel strongly about that,” said Annie Lawless, founder and CEO of Lawless Beauty. “When I was working on my brand and formulating my products, that was one of the top things that I knew my brand would always avoid.” 

“Talc has been a controversial ingredient for a very long time,” said Sheena Yaitanes, founder of Kosas, a clean beauty brand founded five and a half years ago. “For most clean beauty brands, we don’t wait for regulation and we don’t wait for legislation to take a stance on an ingredient that we don’t have a good feeling about. I’ve always questioned the safety of it, and it’s not something that we were ever going to use.” 

Clean beauty brands tend to use corn starch, mica or silica instead of talc, said Sasha Plavsic, founder of clean beauty brand Ilia Beauty. “There are ways of almost trying to replicate the sensorial feel and texture, but you usually have to use a few different ingredients or raw materials to recreate it.” 

The raw materials for talc replacements are not significantly more costly. Johnson & Johnson, for example, has sold an inexpensive corn starch baby powder alternative since 1980.

“Talc is an easier thing to step away from,” said Plavsic. 

But “formulating clean beauty is definitely more expensive” in general, said Lawless. “Making a change is obviously costly; it’s time-consuming.”

In response to increased consumer concerns, talc is joining other commonly avoided ingredients in beauty like parabens and sulfates. 

“The reason that specific focus is on this one ingredient is because of the case that was against Johnson & Johnson. That’s public knowledge,” said Plavsic.

In 2019, 31% of U.S. color cosmetics brands included talc-free claims, up from only 7% in 2016, according to Lauren Goodsitt, a senior global beauty analyst at Mintel. Brands that do not brand themselves explicitly as “clean beauty” but highlight talc-free in their product descriptions include Glossier and Tarte. Sephora sells products labeled “talc-free,” including Lawless’ blush (which has the Clean at Sephora label) and Amika’s “Perk Up Talc Free Dry Shampoo” (which is not labeled as part of Clean at Sephora). Ulta has products that are “talc-free” from brands like Physicians Formula.

Talc is on Sephora’s list of 54 ingredients that can’t be used, in order to be labeled Clean at Sephora — but with the addendum, “Asbestos free talc is ok. Brands need to conduct testing to ensure no contamination.” Talc is also not on the list of banned ingredients for clean retailers like Follain or The Detox Market, although many of the brands sold through those retailers are listed as talc-free. While asbestos is a known carcinogen, the American Cancer Society states that research is “less clear” on whether or not uncontaminated talc causes cancer.

Sephora has been a leader in capturing clean beauty-related web traffic. Search volume for “clean beauty” was up 39% year-over-year in March, according to Alisha Kapur, a beauty and personal care industry consultant at SimilarWeb. According to Kapur, Sephora currently has 18% of organic traffic share for clean beauty, followed by Goop at 10%.

Clean beauty’s ascent has been led by skin care, but clean color cosmetics are also on the rise. Mintel found that 28% of U.S. women worry about the ingredients in their makeup, and this jumps for the Gen-Z demographic at 34%.

“Clean color is definitely behind clean skin care,” said Lawless. “I think it’s really on the brink of a massive explosion. People are really starting to put attention on everything that they consume, and I do think that clean color is just at the beginning. We’ve had a lot more time to slow down without distraction. I do think that this has spurred a lot of people to wake up and become aware of what they’re consuming, what’s in their products, what companies they’re giving their money to, how they’re made, who makes them and where they’re sourced.” 

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