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Why A Carcinogen Scores a "0" in the Cosmetics Database

We at Bubble & Bee think the Cosmetics Database is a great place to start when it comes to researching ingredients. But because it is such a vast resource, some ingredients fall through the figurative cracks in the database. Like this one: magnesium silicate. 

Magnesium silicate is a synthetically-produced mineral compound also known as "activated" magnesium silicate. Sold under the trade name Florisil, it is used in chemistry labs as a testing medium in chromatography and other analytical testing. It's also used in other industrial applications, for cleaning up chemical spills (because it's so absorbent), filtering oils and as a catalyst in some chemical reactions. 

Florisil is actually a blend of two different compounds, SiO2 (silicone dioxide) and MgO (magnesium oxide). When exposed to any amount of water, the two powder compounds ionize and then crystallize in to what we know as talc [CAS 14807-96-6], or hydrated magnesium silicate.

According to the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) found here:

The substance is toxic to lungs. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. [...] Workers must use an approved respirator, gloves, safety glasses and lab coat. [...] Consult a specialist before handling the product. [...] Chronic exposure can lead to accumulation in the lungs, as in the pheumoconiosis called "Talcosis" and exposure to fibrous forms might result in pulmonary fibrosis.

Florisil, or activated magnesium silicate is not used in cosmetics. US Silica, the company that makes it, doesn't even offer a cosmetic grade of it. Why? Because it is not safe for skin--it soaks up any kind of moisture, so it would be incredibly drying and irritating to anything it came in contact with. I even called them and asked if anyone ordered it for cosmetics use--the woman on the phone thought I was crazy just for asking. Companies looking for a powder to help disperse a makeup would just use hydrated magnesium silicate, aka, talc.

So, why is activated magnesium silicate even in the Cosmetics Database? And if it's harmful, why does it score a 0?

A System Based on Numbers

In the chemical industry, every chemical is assigned a number called a CAS (Chemical Abstracts Service) number. The Cosmetics Database started out as a list of chemicals and listed each chemical with its unique CAS number. This list was then cross-linked with other lists from governmental agencies and non-profits to create a comprehensive database. All of the chemicals were cross-linked using their CAS. Activated magnesium silicate isn't widely used and studied, so it wasn't in any of these databases. So, no data was pulled, so there was no score (thus, a 0). 

So, companies started taking advantage of this glitch in the database. They submitted their ingredients lists using magnesium silicate instead of talc, so they would get lower scores. While technically, talc is magnesium silicate, it's the wrong CAS. Companies knowingly do this so they get lower scores in the Cosmetics Database. 

The Dangers of Talc, a national non-profit organization lists talc as a known carcinogen because it increases the risk of lung cancer when it is inhaled. (Source) The National Toxicology Program ruled in 1993 that there was reasonable evidence that talc is a carcinogen when inhaled. (Source) Additionally, much evidence has been found that talc, when used as a feminine powder, can be absorbed into the body and cause ovarian cancer. (Source)

Let's Make a Change

We can make a change with your help! Let the Cosmetics Database know that we're not going to let companies cheat on this ingredient listing. Send an e-mail to and let them know that magnesium silicate should not be listed as a zero, and link to this article. Tweet this! Facebook this article! Let's get the industry to listen!


Reader Comments (11)

Thanks for this post Stephanie. I have emailed EWG and posted this to my fabcebook and twitter. It's people like you that keep the industry clean!

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Roth

Thanks Stephanie....Shocking that the industry is finding ways to manipulate their ingredient list to get lower ratings, the thought never occured to me before, thanks for your great research and informational website. I will share and write EWG.

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermimi

Well done Stephanie!! Thank you!! Your work is hugely appreciated. I will email EWG. I can't believe their are people behind these companies who knowingly use such harmful ingredients in products... What is wrong with these people?

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShaney Kavanagh

Thanks Stephanie,

I sent the email. Keep up the great work!

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterT

Thank you so much for our research and article, Staphanie!! Just emailed this link to EWG and I plan on posting this to my facebook page as well!!

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAna Martin

I just sent an e-mail to the EWG. Stephanie, thank you so much for your much-needed work!!

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Field

Thanks for all of your support!

Thu, September 30, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I also noticed that EWG lists apple cider vinegar as a harmful ingredient. I think it gets like a 2. Why is this, I wonder? I ingest the stuff so isn't it safe to put on my body. I always heard that is was good for one...some people even take shots of it and Braggs has an apple cider vinegar drink!

Fri, November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey

@Audrey--I know, it's pretty silly. Well, yeah, if you put vinegar on your skin at full strength it could sting...or if you get it in your eyes it could sting...2 is actually not a bad score, but our tendency is to think that only "0"s are safe...and it's not necessarily true!

Sat, November 20, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I love to read here! I will share with EWG about silicone dioxide. Also it is used in foods as well, so terrible!

Sat, February 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterRuby Persaud

Hi, I was wondering, are sodium magnesium silicate and magnesium aluminum silicate, a different name for talc? Do they have the same dangers?. I ask because I keep finding these two in ingredient lists of cometics, skin care and tooth paste. Also is talc powder only dangerous when inhaled, in powder form? Is talc not dangerous when part of a cream, lotion, etc? Hope to hear your answers soon, this questions have been bothering me for months ( and google searching seems to makes it more confusing than clear). Thank you very much!.(sorry for this second post i forgot to ask about both ingredients in my first.)

Wed, March 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYolanda

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