Study finds ‘forever chemicals’, or PFAS, in half of cosmetics

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Researchers have found that PFAS also known as “forever chemicals” are common in cosmetics. Cavan Images / Getty Images
  • A new study has found that nearly half of the cosmetics tested contain potentially harmful chemicals.
  • These chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS), have been linked in early research to cancer, reproductive disorders and damage to the immune system.
  • PFAS are often used to increase the durability, spread and wear of a product.

New research by researchers at the University of Notre Dame has found that nearly half of the cosmetics tested in one study contain potentially harmful chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The study, published Tuesday by the American Chemical Society, examined more than 200 products in the United States and Canada and found the highest levels of these chemicals in daily personal care products, including red lipstick, mascara and foundation.

About 88 percent of the products tested lacked information about these ingredients on their product labels.

The products in the United States were purchased from mainstream cosmetics stores like Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond from 2016 to 2020.

PFAS are often used to increase the durability, spread and wear of a product.

Scientists are still studying the impact PFAS exposure can have on human health, but preliminary evidence has linked PFAS exposure to cancer, reproductive harm, and damage to the immune system.

Legislation introduced by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine aims to ban the use of this type of toxic fluorochemicals in cosmetics. If passed, the bill would ban the use of PFAS in cosmetic products.

The researchers tested 231 products purchased from retailers in the United States and Canada and found these chemicals forever in 48% of the products.

Two-thirds of liquid lipsticks, two-thirds of foundations, and three-quarters of water-repellent mascaras contained high levels of fluoride, one of these chemicals.

In addition, another in-depth review of 29 products found that 28 of the products in which PFASs were identified did not disclose the chemicals on their product labels.

The results were released as a group of senators introduced a bill to ban the use of PFAS in personal care products.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates cosmetic products, the agency does not evaluate or approve ingredients for safety.

In addition, the FDA technically requires cosmetics companies to disclose all ingredients used in their products. However, there are many loopholes that have allowed companies to not disclose all of the ingredients included on product labels.

In the United States, “cosmetics and personal care products are not tightly regulated to ensure they do not contain toxic chemicals,” said Luz Claudio, PhD, professor of environmental medicine and public health at the United States. Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.

PFAS are synthetic chemicals commonly used in non-stick cookware, cell phones, furniture, and commercial airplanes.

They are also frequently used to increase the durability and consistency of cosmetic products like lotions, lipsticks, nail polishes, foundations, eye shadow and mascara.

PFAS are used in so many products, in fact, that a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly 97 percent of Americans contain PFAS in their blood.

PFAS are commonly referred to as “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment.

They also accumulate in humans, according to Dr. Alexis Parcells, board certified plastic surgeon and owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery.

Because these personal care products are often applied to the eyes and lips – near tear ducts and mucous membranes – they can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

Scientists are still learning about the health effects, but a growing body of evidence suggests that PFAS can pose serious risks to our health.

“PFAS have been linked to birth defects, liver and thyroid disease, hormonal disturbances and a host of other serious health problems, including cancer,” Parcells said.

A CDC study found that high exposure to PFAS is associated with cancer, liver damage, reduced fertility, and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

Research is ongoing and more data is needed to determine the full effects of these chemicals.

Parcells suggests checking the labels of cosmetics, skin care, and personal hygiene products that you use regularly.

“Throw out anything that contains the words ‘PTFE’ or ‘perfluoro’ in the ingredient list,” Parcells said.

Unfortunately, many products do not disclose all of the included ingredients.

“It is very difficult for consumers to determine if a product contains PFAS because they are not so strictly regulated and are not required to always appear on product labels,” said Claudio.

Parcells and Claudio both recommend checking the Environmental Working Group’s list of verified toxin-free products.

“They looked at over 74,000 products and identified over 18,000 of them as free of chemicals of concern, or ‘verified by the EWG’,” Claudio said.

New research from the University of Notre Dame has found that almost half of cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The highest levels of PFAS have been identified in lipstick, mascara, and foundation. Scientists are still studying the impact PFAS can have on our health, but a growing body of evidence has linked high exposure to PFAS to cancer, fertility issues, and organ damage.

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