Makeup Contains Toxic PFAS Chemicals, say scientists

It’s toxic, it’s in your makeup, and it is unlabeled. The findings of a recent scientific study uncovered laboratory indicators (high fluorine levels) of toxic PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in most waterproof mascara, liquid lipsticks, and foundations tested.  Those makeup products that had the highest indicators for the presence of PFAS chemicals then underwent further analysis and were all confirmed to contain at least four PFAS chemicals of concern. The majority of products with high fluorine, including those confirmed to have PFAS, had no PFAS listed on the label*.

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Should people be concerned?

Considering the fact that consumers who wear these types of makeup may be absorbing and ingesting potentially toxic PFAS ‘Forever’ chemicals, maybe.

“Some PFAS have been associated with a wide range of serious health harms, from cancer to obesity to more severe COVID-19 outcomes, and they contaminate the drinking water of millions of people. Only a small fraction of the many thousands of PFAS have been tested for toxicity, but all PFAS are either extremely persistent in the environment or break down into extremely persistent PFAS.

In addition to PFAS being ingested from lip products, PFAS in cosmetics may be absorbed through the skin and tear ducts. On top of these direct exposure routes, PFAS can make their way into our drinking water, air, and food during the manufacture of makeup and after it’s washed down the drain.”

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Study overview

“The research team screened 231 cosmetic products purchased in the U.S. and Canada for fluorine. More than three-quarters of waterproof mascara, nearly two-thirds of foundations and liquid lipsticks, and more than half of eye and lip products had high fluorine concentrations indicating the presence of PFAS chemicals.

All 29 products selected for targeted analysis contained detectable levels of at least four specific PFAS. This included PFAS that break down into other PFAS that are known to be highly toxic and environmentally harmful. Fluorotelomer methacrylates were also detected, indicating the breakdown of side-chain fluoropolymers which are marketed as a more “environmentally friendly” alternative to individual PFAS.

Many of the products with PFAS were advertised as “wear-resistant” or “long-lasting.” Importantly, almost none of the products studied with targeted analysis had any PFAS listed on their ingredient labels. This makes it impossible for consumers to avoid PFAS-containing cosmetics by reading labels.”

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What do the scientists think about their findings?

“PFAS are not necessary for makeup. Given their large potential for harm, I believe they should not be used in any personal care products. It’s past time to get the entire class of PFAS out of cosmetics and keep these harmful chemicals out of our bodies.”

-Arlene Blum, a co-author of the study and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute

cosmetics makeup brushes and powder dust explosion

What is being done about the hazards consumers are being exposed to in cosmetics?

U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Ban PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics

In June 2021 U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) helped introduce the “No PFAS in Cosmetics Act”, which would ban the inclusion of PFAS chemicals in cosmetics products, such as makeup, moisturizer and perfume. The bipartisan bill is led by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and cosponsored by fellow Senators Angus King (I-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of man-made chemicals, which includes PFOA, PFOS and GenX. These chemicals can bioaccumulate in humans over time and have been linked to numerous serious health-related conditions including cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, decreased fertility and hormone disruption, among other conditions.  In addition to makeup, perfume and moisturizers, PFAS chemicals can be found in drinking water, food packaging, nonstick cookware and bake ware and utensils, clothing, furniture, firefighting foam, sporting equipment, stain-proof and waterproof fabric items, electronics/tech devices and flooring, to name a few.

Bill text of the legislation is available here.

*Use and labeling of cosmetic ingredients in the U.S. is regulated by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938 and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967. These acts do not regulate the type or kind of testing that is needed to determine the safety of cosmetic ingredients, and exemptions exist for labeling ingredients which are considered proprietary. (source)


Journal reference: Whitehead, H.D., et al.  Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics, Environmental Science and Technology Letters, June 2021.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00240  PDF


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