New research shows that many cosmetics contain dangerous chemicals with known human health risks. Action Alert!
Cosmetics is a $20 billion industry, but companies aren’t transparent about the fact that a high percentage of these products are made with PFAS, or “forever” chemicals that cause a host of human health and environmental problems. But you wouldn’t know it in most cases because the products do not disclose these ingredients on their labels. A bill in Congress would ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics; this common-sense measure needs our support.
The study looked at 231 products from the US and Canada, screening for the presence of fluorine, which is an indicator for the presence of PFAS. Researchers found fluorine in 63 percent of foundations, 58 percent of eye products, 47 percent of mascaras, and 47 percent of lip products. Twenty-nine products with high fluorine concentrations were tested further and found to contain between four and 13 PFAS chemicals, and only one of these products listed PFAS as an ingredient on the product label. Only 8 percent of the 231 cosmetics tested had any PFAS listed as ingredients. This is likely because federal law allows exemptions for labeling ingredients that are considered “proprietary.”
The researchers do provide a list of the brands they tested, but not specific products, and not the PFAS levels in those products. One helpful hint for consumers: high fluorine levels were found in products that advertise that they are “wear-resistant” to water and oils or “long-lasting,” so it may be best to avoid such products.
This is deeply concerning, and another way in which we could be exposed to significant amounts of PFAS. Lipstick that contains PFAS could inadvertently be ingested; PFAS in mascara could be absorbed through the tear ducts. And once PFAS enter the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates—they aren’t called “forever” chemicals for nothing. PFAS have been linked to a number of scary health effects, such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypertension, thyroid disease, low birth weight, and immunotoxicity in children. Note that makeup is absorbed through the skin, and chemicals absorbed through the skin directly enter the bloodstream.
There are other ingredients besides PFAS to avoid in cosmetics, including formaldehyde, mercury, and phthalates, isobutyl and isopropyl parabens. The US is way behind in banning or restricting dangerous cosmetic ingredients. The EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals in cosmetics (though not PFAS) while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11. Recall, too, that, in 2016 alone, US farmers used 322 million pounds of pesticides that are banned in the EU.
Cosmetics aren’t the only route of exposure to PFAS. We previously reported that the drinking water of many communities across the US is contaminated with PFAS. PFAS chemicals are also widely used in food packaging, which we know can leach into food. Other research has suggested that those who eat more meals outside the home tend to have elevated PFAS levels. But eating PFAS in food is arguably safer than using cosmetics with PFAS, since in the case of food the chemical goes through the liver rather than directly into the bloodstream.
There is action at the federal level that will help limit our exposure to PFAS. One bill bans the use of PFAS in cosmetics. Another bill introduced in the last Congress and expected to be introduced in the coming weeks would ban PFAS in food packaging. Still another bill would pressure the EPA to set standards for PFAS in drinking water and to place limits on industrial release of PFAS, among other things.
Action Alert! Write to Congress in support of these bills to limit our exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals. Please send your message immediately.