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Toxic 'Forever Chemicals' Found in Mainstream Cosmetics

Health + Wellness
woman in makeup store
A new study found toxic forever chemicals in hundreds of widely used cosmetic products. Flashpop / DigitalVision / Getty Images

A new study found toxic PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," in hundreds of widely used cosmetic products produced by major brands throughout the U.S. and Canada.


The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found "high levels of organic fluorine," which is a prevalent indicator of PFAS, in over half of 231 makeup and personal care products. The specific products include lipstick, eyeliner, foundation, concealer, lip balm, blush, and nail polish, according to The Guardian.

"This is the first study to look at total fluorine or PFAS in cosmetics so we just didn't know what we were going to find," Tom Burton, one author of the study, and a senior scientist with Green Science Policy Institute said to The Guardian. "This is a product that people are spreading on their skin day after day, so there's really a potential for significant exposure."

Those who wear makeup may be absorbing these chemicals through their skin, tear ducts, or potentially by ingesting them.

"Lipstick wearers may inadvertently eat several pounds of lipstick in their lifetimes," Graham Peaslee, senior author of the study said to Eureka Alert. "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 not only in cosmetic products but also contaminate drinking water and are tied to several negative health effects including cancer, obesity, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormone disruption, and potentially more severe COVID-19 effects, according to Eureka Alert and The Guardian.

Each product tested in the study contained anywhere from four to 13 individual PFAS compounds. Brands tested include L'Oréal, Mac, Ulta, Cover Girl, Clinique, Nars, Smashbox, Estée Lauder, and many other commonly found makeup brands.

Interestingly, the study didn't reveal which brands had PFAS in their products because it didn't want to "pick on" the companies, according to The Guardian.

"It can be hard for consumers to avoid PFAS chemicals because many brands don't list them on the labels," Burton said to The Guardian. However, fluorine was often included in labels on products that claimed to be "wear-resistant," "long-lasting" and "waterproof."

It's unclear if cosmetic industry companies are aware that they were adding toxic chemicals to their products because the supply chain is "complicated," according to Burton.

"It's not clear whether the brands are actually saying 'Give us PFAS to use in our products' or asking for a thickener, for example, or something functional without paying too much attention to what's in it," Burton said to The Guardian.

He also pointed out that around half of the products tested did not contain PFAS or fluorine, proving cosmetic products can be made without them.

The release of the study coincides with a bipartisan Senate bill that could ban certain chemicals used in makeup called the "No PFAS in Cosmetics Act," according to The Guardian. The bill was introduced Tuesday by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

"Americans should be able to trust that the products they are applying to their hair or skin are safe," Collins said in a statement. "To help protect people from further exposure to PFAS, our bill would require the FDA to ban the addition of PFAS to cosmetics products."

Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.

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