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The Food and Drug Administration has announced that tests have found asbestos in three types of cosmetics made by Claire's, which has disputed the findings and claims there were errors in the testing.
The FDA warned consumers in a safety alert against using Claire's eye shadows, compact powder and contour palette because they tested positive for asbestos in independent tests conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and AMA Analytical Services.
The company has since recalled the three cosmetic products in question, as confirmed by both the company and the FDA.
The law doesn’t require cosmetic products to be registered with the FDA, so the agency issued its warning to consumers because it doesn't have the legal authority to force Claire's to recall the products in question.
"The FDA requested that Claire’s recall the products because they should not be used by consumers,'' the agency said in a statement. "Claire’s has refused to comply with the FDA’s request, and the agency does not have authority to mandate a recall. The FDA is therefore warning consumers not to use these products and will continue to communicate our safety concerns about them."
The fashion accessories retailer and mall staple for tweens has decided to remove the three products from stores "out of an abundance of caution," as well as "any remaining talc-based cosmetic products,'' the company said in a statement.
"There is no evidence that any products sold by Claire's are unsafe,'' the company said in its statement. "The recent test results the FDA have shared with us show significant errors. Specifically, the FDA test reports have mischaracterized fibers in the products as asbestos, in direct contradiction to established EPA and USP criterion for classifying asbestos fibers.
"Despite our efforts to discuss these issues with the FDA, they insisted on moving forward with their release."
Claire's told TODAY in a statement that it has pulled all remaining talc-based products and destroyed all talc-based inventory. It also is offering customers a refund on any talc-based products it has sold.
The FDA's decision to test Claire's products was triggered by reports in 2017 of asbestos being found in Claire's makeup line. The company pulled 17 products from stores after the mother of a 6-year-old girl in Rhode Island sent her daughter's makeup to a laboratory, which found traces of potentially cancer-causing tremolite asbestos.
The FDA then conducted its own independent tests and found asbestos in the three products as well as one sold by the retailer Justice that had already been recalled in 2017.
"The FDA is confident in the scientific validity of the testing results provided by two, separate third-party labs,'' an FDA spokesman told TODAY. "These labs are well-respected by not only the FDA, but by those involved in the broad topic of asbestos nationwide.
"In this case, it provided significant reassurances to the FDA when results from various tests conducted at the two, different labs aligned. In addition, the FDA’s foremost subject matter experts in this area reviewed and confirmed that all the results are supportable and valid. The bottom line is that because of the health risks posed by asbestos, which are well-documented by other government agencies, it was the FDA’s responsibility to promptly share these findings with American consumers and warn them about their potential public health threat."
The agency advised not to use Claire’s Eye Shadows, batch/lot No: 08/17; Claire’s Compact Powder, batch/lot No.: 07/15; and Claire’s Contour Palette, batch/lot No.: 04/17. The FDA noted it has not received any reports of people being sickened after using the makeup.
Dr. Patricia McCormack, a board-certified dermatologist with offices in New Jersey and New York and 34 years of experience, told TODAY Style that makeup products containing asbestos are more of a health risk if they are used over years of time rather than a few months.
"If it does have asbestos particles, you can't smell them or see them, so of course you'll inhale them,'' she said. "If you're inhaling asbestos long term, that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other issues.
"With short-term exposure, there's no proof of the risk because we really don't have data on that. I don't think people should panic because hopefully they were short-term exposures. Long-term exposure really is the problem."
If a tween or teenager uses makeup products containing asbestos from the age of 10 until 20, that would be considered long-term exposure.
"You always worry more about getting exposed to something earlier in life,'' McCormack said. "These diseases may take 10 to 20 years into your exposure to appear."
When McCormack tests to see if a patient is having dermatitis or an allergic reaction to makeup, she also contacts the makeup company for the complete list of ingredients in their products. The Claire's makeup products did not list asbestos as an ingredient, so they would not have necessarily been flagged by a doctor.
"I think there's more contamination than we're really aware of, which is a scary thought,'' McCormack said.
Her hope is that the law can be changed to give the FDA more jurisdiction over cosmetics.
"I believe that moving forward there's a real call to take over cosmetics because there's no control,'' she said. "Who knows what ingredients these companies are really using, especially when a lot of these are manufactured outside the U.S.?"
In addition to the asbestos-related issues with its products, Claire's has also been facing financial troubles. The retailer filed for bankruptcy protection last year and the company announced in October that it had emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by eliminating $1.9 billion in debt.
This story was first published on March 8, 2019.