As a young girl, Hannah Fletcher was fascinated by the makeup on her mother's dresser. It looked good, smelled great and had a feminine mystery about it.
"My earliest memories are from when I was about four years old playing with my mum's make-up on her dresser," she says. “She had the face powder that everyone was using at the time, and a big box of lipstick.
Hannah, 48, from Oxshott, Surrey, smiles as she recalls the happy memories. But the smile soon fades because something that was in the makeup she played with as a child, or wore in later life, was in the makeup she played with as a child, or wore in later life: Asbestos.
Hannah has mesothelioma, a terminal cancer caused by asbestos that affects the mesothelium, a membrane on the outside of the lungs, heart, intestines and abdomen.
It can cause cancer in any of these, but in Hannah's case, her peritoneum – the lining of her abdomen – is affected. There is no cure and, once diagnosed, 60 percent of patients die within 12 months.
Hannah is at the forefront of a growing number of British women seeking legal redress against cosmetics companies in US courts for mesothelioma they believe was caused by asbestos in their makeup. This summer, US manufacturers Avon and Estee Lauder, and its subsidiary Clinique, reached a 'settlement' with Hannah to avoid going to trial. Neither side would say what the resolution included, and the companies denied responsibility for causing Hana's illness, but it is thought to have cost them a significant sum.
No one knows for sure how many other British women have been affected, but Hannah's UK lawyer, Harminder Bains, a partner at Leigh Day, says her firm alone represents at least 20 other claimants.
"I had no idea that my makeup could be dangerous to my health - nobody knew, and most people still don't know - but there is evidence that the cosmetics industry knew and I am very angry about it" , says Hannah.
"I'm living half a life now. I say half because of all the things I can no longer do because of my illness, but also half because of how much I will be able to continue. They took my life. I just want people to be aware of the potential danger in their makeup.
But what risk? How can make-up, used by millions of people every day without ill effects, be dangerous? Well, because of the composition of the "talk" that is in most of it.
Talc is a soft clay mineral of natural origin, composed of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It is mined all over the world, with the largest producers being China, Brazil, France, India and the USA.
The problem is that talc is often found in the same geologic locations as asbestos, which is also mined as a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. And sometimes talc is contaminated with asbestos.
According to the Mesothelioma Center, a US patient advocacy group: “Although not every talc deposit is contaminated with asbestos, unfortunately, many are. Talc deposits tend to contain highly carcinogenic forms of asbestos, such as tremolite or anthophyllite. These forms are more carcinogenic than chrysotile, the most commonly used type of asbestos.'/ Daily Mail/