Talc is a widely used cosmetic ingredient, especially in color cosmetics, where it serves as a formulation filler and opacifier. It provides excellent slip and translucence on the skin and is easily pressed. Talc, unfortunately, carries health concerns and known contamination risks. Ensuring the purity of talc in cosmetic products has become burdensome for formulators, manufacturers, and regulatory bodies. In response, safe and sustainable alternatives like rice starch have gained prominence.
Talc Health Concerns and Contamination Risks
Some scientific literature suggests that talc applied to the perineal area of women migrates to the ovaries, causing ovarian cancer.1 After extensively reviewing relevant literature published through 2012, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel concluded that most studies claiming this causation lack validity. Several studies show an inverse trend, and many show no increased cancer risk with locally applied talc, as in the case of talc-dusted condoms and diaphragms.2 The CIR Expert Panel considers pure talc safe for use in cosmetics, even as a 100% talc product, provided it is used in accordance with standard practices. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues research in this field.
Another concern associated with talc is asbestos contamination. Asbestos is a known respiratory carcinogen. Because the two minerals form under similar conditions, talc and asbestos frequently form near one another. Talc ore may be contaminated with asbestos fibers inadvertently during the mining process. Knowing this risk, the FDA continually surveys talc-containing cosmetics for asbestos. Their 2019 surveys revealed one baby powder and nine pressed powders contaminated with asbestos.3 Warnings, recalls, and lawsuits followed. The market has moved away from talc in baby powder, but talc persists as a mainstay in pressed powders like bronzers, blushes, and eyeshadows.
MoCRA Provisions on Talc-Containing Cosmetics
To improve consumer safety, the FDA is establishing standardized asbestos testing protocols which will be required for all talc-containing cosmetic products, as outlined in the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MoCRA). Testing responsibilities fall on all facilities that manufacture or process cosmetic products.
“SEC. 3505. TALC-CONTAINING COSMETICS.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services— (1) not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, shall promulgate proposed regulations to establish and require standardized testing methods for detecting and identifying asbestos in talc-containing cosmetic products; and (2) not later than 180 days after the date on which the public comment period on the proposed regulations closes, shall issue such final regulations.”4
The MoCRA was enacted on December 23, 2022. Asbestos testing methods are expected to be issued on or before December 23, 2023. The regulation should be finalized no later than June 23, 2024.
Rice Starch as a Renewable Substitute for Talc
Starch is an effective, non-toxic,5 and sustainable alternative to talc. Its abundance and affordability make it an appealing solution to the challenges presented by talc. Producing regulatory-compliant cosmetics using starch will be simpler than doing the same with talc, as starch is exempt from MoCRA’s asbestos testing requirement.
Starch has gained popularity as a substitute in formulations that were previously talc-based. Starches used in cosmetics today include tapioca, corn, rice, wheat, potato, pea, and oat starch. Like talc, cosmetic starches enhance formulation opacity while providing a sheer appearance on the skin. To varying degrees, starches improve glide, add cushion and richness to emulsions, absorb sebum, blur imperfections on the skin, and prevent caking of powder blends. Starch is less compressible than talc, possibly explaining the persistence of talc in pressed powders, but adding fumed silica to starch has been shown to improve compressibility and flow.6
The characteristics of starch, such as particle size, shape, abrasiveness, absorption, slip, color, odor, and impurities, are influenced by its plant source and manufacturing methods. Our Activederm RP, a refined rice starch sourced from Italy, is bright white, has a particle size of 2-8 µm, and features a hexagonal shape. It is highly pure and completely odorless. These attributes, specific to Activederm RP, allow for excellent oil absorption, resulting in a velvety mattifying effect on both skin and hair. It is non-abrasive, non-colloidal, and easy to disperse and suspend. As a rice derivative, it is 100% natural (ISO16128 NOI: 1.0). Consider trying Activederm RP as an alternative to talc or exploring these creative applications:
- Absorb sebum and urea from sweat in BDY.0039.V1 Natural Deodorant Stick
- Mattify skin and blur the appearance of fine lines with FAC.0011.V2 Blurring Primer
- Reduce the oily appearance of hair between washes with HCA.0011 Dry Shampoo
- Add cleansing power and non-pearlescent opacity to FAC.0008.V3 Sebum-Control Facial Wash
- Achieve ultra-soft richness with the NOC high in BDY.0010.V1 Natural Origin Rice Lotion
- Elevate the classic clay mask experience in FAC.0013.V1 Clay & Rice Stick Facial Mask
About the Author:
Ellen Libby joined the Specialty Division of 3V Sigma® USA in 2022 as a Formulation Chemist specializing in personal care applications. Prior to joining 3V, she spent six years innovating and collaborating across many segments of the cosmetic industry as a research and development chemist in contract manufacturing. Ellen holds a B.S. in Biology from The Ohio State University and is currently working toward her M.S. in Cosmetic Science from the University of Cincinnati.
(1) Ness, R. B. DOES TALC EXPOSURE CAUSE OVARIAN CANCER?: IGCS-0015 Ovarian Cancer. International Journal of Gynecological Cancer 2015, 25 (Supp 1), 51. https://doi.org/10.1136/00009577-201505001-00040.
(2) Fiume, M. M.; Boyer, I.; Bergfeld, W. F.; Belsito, D.; Hill, R. A.; Klaassen, C. D.; Liebler, D. C.; Marks, J. G.; Shank, R. C.; Slaga, T. J.; Snyder, P. W.; Andersen, F. A.Safety Assessment of TALC as Used in Cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology 2015, 34 (1_suppl), 66S-129S. https://doi.org/10.1177/1091581815586797.
(3) FDA Advises Consumers to Stop Using Certain Cosmetic Products. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-recalls-alerts/fda-advises-consumers-stop-using-certain-cosmetic-products.
(4) Text – H.R.2617 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2617/text.
(5) Amended Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Germ Oil, Rice Bran Acid, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Wax, Hydrogenated Rice Bran Wax, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Extract, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Germ Powder, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Starch, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran, Hydrolyzed Rice Bran Extract Hydrolyzed Rice Bran Protein, Hydrolyzed Rice Extract, and Hydrolyzed Rice Protein1. International Journal of Toxicology 2006, 25 (2_suppl), 91–120. https://doi.org/10.1080/10915810600964626.
(6) Ajayi, O. M.; Amin, S. Flow and Performance Effects of Talc Alternatives on Powder Cosmetic Formulations. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 2021, 43 (5), 588–600. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12733.