In March, our PIRG Consumer Watchdog team found that three different children’s makeup products sold by nationwide retail brand Claire’s contain alarming amounts of asbestos. We called on Claire’s to fix the problem, and when they didn’t act, we started alerting consumers that these toxic products were still on the shelves.
Unfortunately, these are just a few of the thousands of products that are on store shelves in the United States each year that have hidden health risks. And even though we all have access to more information about products than ever before, it can be difficult, even for the most diligent person, to identify the hidden hazards and risks that can be found in many of today’s products.
It’s 2018. Why should we tolerate toxics in our consumer products—especially products marketed for children?
Manufacturers should test the ingredients used in their products for toxics and other contaminants before those products go to market. And government agencies should act as a backstop to ensure that companies adhere to these key health-based standards.
We know there is a better way—but that’s not the world we currently live in. That’s why, for decades, our Consumer Watchdog team has conducted independent testing and research to identify these dangers that can pose risks to our health, safety or well-being—revealing lead in toys, carcinogens in fragranced products and now asbestos hiding in kids’ shimmery makeup.
U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s most recent report found that three children’s makeup products sold by Claire’s contained more than 150,000 fibers of asbestos per gram of product.
While asbestos isn’t used commercially in makeup, it can be found as a contaminant in a common ingredient in makeup—talc. Those sparkly, shimmery makeup products that kids know and love are often made with talc. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it unacceptable for cosmetic talc to be contaminated with asbestos, and doctors say that there is no safe limit of asbestos.
Inhaling asbestos, ingesting it or even just having asbestos fibers come into contact with your skin can cause lung cancer, skin cancer, mesothelioma and a number of other adverse health effects. To make matters worse, the effects of asbestos won’t show up immediately. Children can be exposed to asbestos and not suffer the consequences until years down the road.
The FDA says that companies can prevent contamination of talc with asbestos by selecting talc mining sites carefully and taking steps to purify the ore sufficiently. However, consumers have to contact companies directly to find out if their products’ talc is sourced safely. That’s why U.S. PIRG is advocating for policymakers to mandate companies conduct testing on makeup products before they hit store shelves.
Parents should never have to worry about their children being at risk of mesothelioma when they’re playing with sparkly makeup, which is why we immediately asked Claire’s to remove these toxic products from their shelves. But when we notified the company to recall the items, we received nothing more than a cursory response saying that the company was investigating the claims.
We went public on March 13, 2018—alerting consumers that these toxic products are still on the shelves at Claire’s, putting pressure on the company to do the right thing, and showing lawmakers that these issues pose a threat to our public health.
News stations across the country covered our story. U.S. PIRG President Faye Park appeared on CBS News. U.S. PIRG Campaign Director Kara Cook-Schultz told Teen Vogue, “We’re just not being protected, so people have to be proactive in protecting themselves, which is not a complete answer for a lot of people. When you buy products from a company like Claire’s, you expect at the minimum that it’s not going to contain asbestos.” And our national network partners, like Danny Katz of CoPIRG, spread word in their states.
After we went public, Claire’s released a statement incorrectly claiming that our testing methods were unsound in an attempt to distract from the bottom line. We drove the conversation back to where it needs to be: How can we make sure our children are safe and our products are toxic-free?
This isn’t the first time we’ve worked to make sure that unsafe products are taken off the market, and it likely won’t be our last unless rules protecting consumers are strengthened. That’s why we’ve promoted policies and developed resources to better equip consumers to protect their own interests. And we will continue to do that work until we no longer need to—but we certainly hope for that day to come.
The long-term solution should come in the form of policy changes that drive industry changes. It’s just common sense: Congress can and should mandate safety checks that ensure these consumer products are safe before hitting the shelves. We need bills that enforce safety checks to keep contaminated products off the shelves, because it’s our responsibility protect our children from exposure to dangerous chemicals.
The good news is that Congress is currently considering a bill that would address this urgent problem. The Children’s Product Warning Label Act of 2018 would require that children’s cosmetics containing talc include an appropriate warning unless the cosmetics are demonstrated to be asbestos-free. Passing this legislation would be a major first step toward protecting our children from asbestos-contaminated products.
Our country has an important choice to make: Will we choose to continue living in a world with products that poisons us quietly? Or will we stand up and work against those forces in the public interest?
At U.S. PIRG and our national network, we know that we need to do better as a country to protect consumers and public health. We have the tools, we have the know-how, but we need the policy and broader change. Parents should be able to buy kids' products without worrying about their hidden health risks. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass legislation that will protect our kids from asbestos contamination. Will you join us?