Potentially harmful traces of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”, have been found in several makeup products sold in the U.S. and Canada, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. In the study, the researchers tested 231 makeup products, including lipsticks, foundations and mascaras, and found some of the products to contain significant levels of PFAS.
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In the initial tests, researchers found high levels of fluorine in most waterproof mascaras and liquid lipsticks. Fluorine can indicate the presence of PFAS, so some of the products with high levels of fluorine underwent further tests and were all found to contain at least four potentially harmful PFAS. Of more concern is the fact that none of the products confirmed to contain PFAS had these chemicals listed on the labels.
Of the 231 products tested in the study, at least three-quarters of waterproof mascaras, two-thirds of foundations and over half of eye and lip products had high amounts of fluorine. All 29 products that were tested for PFAS after showing high amounts of fluorine turned out to contain at least four specific, highly concerning PFAS. Some of these “forever chemicals” can break down further, creating highly persistent and environmentally harmful PFAS.
“Lipstick wearers may inadvertently eat several pounds of lipstick in their lifetimes,” said Graham Peaslee, senior author of the study and physics professor at the University of Notre Dame. “But unlike food, chemicals in lipstick and other makeup and personal care products are almost entirely unregulated in the U.S. and Canada. As a result, millions of people are unknowingly wearing PFAS and other harmful chemicals on their faces and bodies daily.”
PFAS are associated with a wide range of ailments, including cancer, and may even cause severe COVID-19 complications. Besides their threat to human health, they are also environmentally risky. Almost all PFAS are extremely persistent in the environment. In the long-run, such chemicals find their way into drinking water.
Arlene Blum, study co-author and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, said that PFAS should not be used in makeup or skincare products due to their possibly high toxicity.
“PFAS are not necessary for makeup. Given their large potential for harm, I believe they should not be used in any personal care products,” Blum said. “It’s past time to get the entire class of PFAS out of cosmetics and keep these harmful chemicals out of our bodies.”
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