Asbestos in Cosmetics Allegations Add to Retailer Claire’s Woes (Corrected)

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By Pat Rizzuto

The preteens that typically hunt bargain bling at Claire’s Stores may come home with something they didn’t intend to buy: asbestos, says a national activist coalition.

U.S. PIRG—a federation of public interest research groups—tested 15 talc-containing cosmetic products made by four companies. It found asbestos in three products, all of which were made by Claire’s Stores Inc., Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director for the federation told Bloomberg Environment. U.S. PIRG released its findings March 13.

Claire’s, a fashion accessory retail chain popular with preteens and teens, “categorically denied” the allegations.

“We want to assure our customers that all of our products are safe and asbestos-free,” the store said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Environment.

True or false, the claims add to the store’s woes. The company faced similar allegations last year, which it also denied. Claire’s is preparing to file for bankruptcy to ease its debt load, Bloomberg reported March 8.

‘Obsolete’ Methods: Claire’s

U.S. PIRG tested products containing talc, because asbestos—a mineral and known human carcinogen—can be present in deposits of talc, which also is a naturally occurring silicate mineral.

A Food and Drug Administration website mentions this potential for co-contamination, and says: “FDA considers it unacceptable for cosmetic talc to be contaminated with asbestos.”

The 15 talc-containing cosmetics U.S. PIRG tested were made by Coty Inc.'s Cover Girl, Claire’s, L’Oreal, and NYX Professional Makeup, Cook-Schultz said. Asbestos was found in three of the 15 products—blush, eye shadow, and compact powder. All three were made by Claire’s, she said.

The concentrations of tremolite asbestos ranged from 84,746 fibers per gram to 153,846 fibers per gram, according to laboratory results from STAT Analysis Corp., which conducted the tests in February.

Cook-Schultz said all the detections are too high, because the FDA says no asbestos is acceptable.

“It also surprised me that this is such an issue in kids makeup,” Cook-Schultz said.

The asbestos-containing makeup could increase the risk of cancer whether inhaled or applied to the skin, Sonya Kenkare, a dermatologist familiar with U.S. PIRG’s results, told Bloomberg Environment.

Claire’s customers could be exposed both ways as they brush the makeup onto their faces and breathe the dust from powders, said Kenkare, who works at the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Ill.

Company Defends Products

According to Claire’s: “The test methods that were used by STAT are obsolete and unreliable, and STAT is not certified to perform the type of testing necessary for talc-based products.”

“Claire’s has conducted extensive testing and investigation in cooperation with relevant authorities, including the FDA, Health Canada, and a number of EU enforcement agencies to demonstrate that Claire’s products are asbestos-free and comply with all relevant safety regulations,” according to the company’s statement. “All our powder-based cosmetics use the same base formulation, utilizing Merck certified asbestos-free talc, which is the same talc used in other well-known cosmetic brands.”

STAT did not reply to a voice mail, email, and LinkedIn message seeking comment. The company’s website says it provides five types of asbestos analysis.

STAT also is among the laboratories accredited to conduct asbestos fiber analysis, according to a list maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The lab used two methods—polarized light microscopy (PLM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM)—to conduct its analysis, both of which are referenced by the FDA and one of which is cited by Health Canada, Cook-Schultz said.


U.S. PIRG wants Claire’s to pull its products from its store shelves or ensure no asbestos is in them, arguing the fiber should be banned.

Passing the Children’s Product Warning Label Act of 2018, H.R. 4964, which Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced on Feb. 7, would be a good first step, Cook-Schultz said. The bill has not moved since being introduced.

The Environmental Protection Agency is assessing the risks of ongoing uses of asbestos. The agency said in its risk evaluation plans, or “scope” document, that it recognizes some imported consumer, commercial, and industrial products including brakes, insulation, and building materials may contain asbestos.

Neither the EPA’s risk evaluation plans, nor the U.S. Geological Survey, which released in January its annual summary of asbestos imports and exports, had estimates about how much asbestos may be found in such imported products.

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