Forever Chemicals Found in Popular Anti-Fog Sprays and Cloths

Health + Wellness
Woman Winter walk with face mask and fogged up eyeglasses
Anti-fog products are an increasingly popular solution for people who wear both glasses and face masks. Photo credit: IzaLysonArts / 500px Prime / Getty Images IzaLysonArts / 500px

New research has revealed the presence of toxic forever chemicals in yet another product: the anti-fogging sprays and cloths that people are using more and more frequently to keep their glasses from clouding over while wearing face masks. 

A Duke University-led research team found two types of under-studied per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in nine of the top-rated anti-fogging sprays and cloths sold on Amazon.

“It’s disturbing to think that products people have been using on a daily basis to help keep themselves safe during the COVID pandemic may be exposing them to a different risk,” Heather Stapleton, Duke University Ronie-Richele Garcia-Jones Distinguished Professor of environmental chemistry and health, said in a press release.

Stapleton first got the idea for the study when she looked at the ingredients listed on a bottle of anti-fogging spray she had bought for her nine-year-old daughter. 

The team then tested four anti-fog sprays, five anti-fog cloths and two commercial fluorosurfactant formulations that are suspected to be used in making anti-fog products, according to the research published in Environmental Science & Technology Wednesday. The scientists found that all of the products contained two PFAS in particular: Fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) and fluorotelomer ethoxylates (FTEOs).

“Our tests show the sprays contain up to 20.7 milligrams of PFAS per milliliter of solution, which is a pretty high concentration,” study leader Nicholas Herkert, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in the press release. 

PFAS are referred to as forever chemicals because of the way they linger in the environment, The Guardian explained. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems including cancer, thyroid disease and fertility issues. However, little is known about FTOHs and FTEOs in particular. This is only the second-ever study to focus on FTEOs. 

That said, there is evidence that FTOHs can break down in the body into more toxic PFAS. In addition, the researchers found that the FTEOs in the anti-fog sprays were toxic to cells in the lab and could convert cells into fat cells. 

“Altogether, these results suggest that FTEOs are present in commercial products at toxicologically relevant levels, and more research is needed to fully understand the health risks from using these PFAS-containing products,” the study authors concluded. 

The findings are especially concerning in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, because healthcare professionals have recommended anti-fogging products so that people who wear glasses can don facemasks and still see. While many of these products are labeled “safe” or “non-toxic,” their ingredients are not fully disclosed and the study results cast even greater doubts on their safety. 

“Because of COVID, more people than ever—including many medical professionals and other first-responders—are using these sprays and cloths to keep their glasses from fogging up when they wear masks or face shields,” Stapleton said in the press release. “They deserve to know what’s in the products they’re using.”

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