With the discovery of dangerous levels of lead in lipstick, formaldehyde in nail polish, and potential carcinogens and hormone disruptors like parabens, phthalates, and sulfates in just about everything else, it’s become increasingly clear that the FDA needs to be more aggressively involved in what we put on our faces and bodies. But you still wouldn’t expect to find a highly toxic ingredient, classified as a cancer-causing substance by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in your highlighter — let alone a highlighter marketed toward children.
The investigative team at WTVD, a local ABC station in Durham, North Carolina, found something shocking while testing the ingredients of cosmetics made specifically for children and teens: A highlighter sold at Justice, a popular clothing chain for tween girls with over 1,000 locations nationwide, tested positive for dangerous asbestos. “I would treat it like a deadly poison, because it is,” said Sean Fitzgerald, the Director of Research and Analytical Services at the Scientific Analytical Institute in Greensboro, where the Just Shine Shimmer Powder was tested.
Even incidental exposure to asbestos, a fireproof fiber material once used to insulate buildings before we became aware of its risks, can cause cancers of the lung and mesothelioma, a malignant tumor of the tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs. “What we have here is a talc that was contaminated with asbestos that was used to manufacture a product unfortunately aimed at young children,” Fitzgerald told WTVD. “Talc is a mineral, but it also forms in the earth with other minerals and some of those minerals are asbestos.”
The FDA does prohibit talc that’s been contaminated with asbestos from being used in cosmetics, so while the manufacturer didn’t sell the product with the knowledge that the powder ingredient had been compromised, Fitzgerald explained that it should have been tested before going to market. “In this powder designed for children, they could die an untimely death in their thirties or forties because of the exposure to asbestos in this product,” he said. “Children should not be allowed to breathe it. If a 10-year-old inhaled this fiber today, when he's 50 years old, it's still there.”
In addition to asbestos, Fitzgerald also found four toxic heavy metals — barium, chromium, selenium, and lead — in the Just Shine Shimmer Powder. Justice stores have pulled the product from shelves following the WTVD investigation, and it’s no longer available for purchase online, though it hasn’t officially been added to its list of recalled items. The company addressed the findings in a statement shared on Facebook, adding, “We cannot speculate regarding the matter while we investigate.”
Incidents like these are part of the reason why green beauty products have gained so much traction over the past several years, but it also goes to show that paying close attention to what’s on the ingredients list only goes so far. Educating yourself on the potential risks associated with certain cosmetics ingredients is essential, so look to resources like the EWG Skin Deep Database to verify that your products are safe — and consider redirecting your kid to the natural beauty aisle at Sephora next time.