A new study, conducted by researchers in the United States, Canada and Switzerland, shows that people who wear cosmetics such as lipstick or mascara may absorb or pick up potentially harmful ingredients that have remained for decades in the environment.
The study said these ingredients, known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are rarely detected on labels, making them difficult to avoid. Published Tuesday in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
What are PFAS and where are they located?
PFAS is a group of more than 4,700 man-made chemicals that contain fluorine bound to carbon, a strong chemical bond that makes it difficult to break down.
“What’s really concerning about them is that they are very persistent,” said Miriam Diamond, a professor at the University of Toronto who co-authored the research. “It will last for years, in fact…decades.”
That’s why they are often referred to as “forever chemicals” by scientists. It’s also how it can build up to high levels over time in the body or environment.
PFAS has been used in lubricants, stain repellents, waterproofing, non-stick coatings and firefighting foams, and can be found in products ranging from carpets to cosmetics to food packaging.
How harmful is PFAS?
Very few PFAS have been studied in detail, but those that have been linked to a variety of health effects in humans and animals, Including an increased risk of cancer, decreased immune response and fertility, And the Altered metabolism and increased risk of obesity.
Three well-studied groups of PFAS (PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs) banned in Canada Because of its dangers to the environment. But Health Canada says there is evidence of other PFAS replacing these also linked to environmental impacts or human health. This is why the government Consider organizing all PFAS as a group.
Diamond noted that PFAS is known to be “in all of us” as the substances are detected in blood samples, but scientists don’t know exactly how people are exposed to it.
Why did researchers look for PFAS in makeup?
Studies in Europe and Asia have found dozens of products that list PFAS in their ingredients; It is promoted to make products such as foundation, mascara and liquid lipstick more waterproof, durable and spreadable. Increased skin absorption of the product is listed as another advantage.
But it wasn’t clear if these products were also sold in North America.
Diamond said Environment and Climate Change Canada has provided funding to look into this to help understand how PFAS enters the environment. Other funding came from the Great Lakes Protection Initiative, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the National Science Foundation.
How did researchers look for PFAS in makeup?
In the new study, Heather Whitehead, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and her collaborators examined 231 cosmetic products purchased in Canada and the United States, including 17 Canadian products, most of which were not on the PFAS list on the label.
The researchers tested for the first time fluorine, an essential component of PFAS. They then analyzed in more detail the 29 products with high levels of fluorine, and specifically found detectable levels of at least four PFAS, including some that degrade into smaller but highly toxic and environmentally harmful PFAS.
What kind of makeup is in PFAS?
Overall, 52 percent of the products tested contained what the researchers considered to be high in fluorine. But it is more likely to be found in products that are advertised as “wear-resistant” or “long-lasting”. Products tested with a high content of fluorine include:
- 82% of waterproof mascara.
- 58 percent of other eye products, such as eyeshadows, eyeliners, and eye creams.
- 63 percent of institutions.
- 62 percent of liquid lipsticks.
Of the 17 Canadian products tested, only 1 had PFAS on the ingredients label.
Many are designed to be placed near the mouth or eyes, which the researchers said could increase exposure through licking, skin absorption or absorption through the tear ducts.
However, people are likely to be exposed to PFAS from a variety of sources, and it is not known what levels would be considered harmful in products like makeup. Health Canada says there is limited scientific information on the majority of PFAS, although it does exist Guidelines for Maximum Levels of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
If PFAS is not on cosmetic ingredient lists, where did it come from?
Researchers believe they found this by looking at the ingredients list. Some ingredients used to add bulk products, such as mica and talc, can be treated with PFAS called PAPs to improve durability. Other ingredients such as dimethicone, acrylate and silicone copolymers come in versions that contain PFAS.
“We speculate that the detected PFAS was from these ingredients described on the labels using only their generic name, eg, dimethicone, acrylate,” the researchers said.
They added that the reported concentrations of those components were consistent with the highest concentrations of fluorine measured in the analysis.
Diamond said that when some researchers reached out to companies that manufacture cosmetics, many did not realize that their products contained PFAS, because their supply chains are so complex.
Should people avoid makeup that contains PFAS? How can they?
Diamond said she believes consumers should avoid products that contain PFAS, given that the potential for exposure to PFAS when it is in a cosmetic product is very high and the chemicals are linked to negative health effects.
She added that the effect is not limited to the user only, as the product will eventually reach the air or water. “So I not only contaminate myself when I use this product, but I have the potential to contaminate my entire community.”
Fortunately, the study found that there are makeup options that contain little or no fluorine. Unfortunately, because PFAS is not included in the ingredients, it is difficult to identify them.
Diamond recommends avoiding products marketed as water-resistant, long-lasting, or durable, and which are more likely to contain PFAS.
In the end, you think they should be banned “because they are not necessary”.
In the meantime, she hopes the research will prompt cosmetic manufacturers to remove PFAS from their products and retailers to consider these ingredients when marketing their products.
Haneen Al-Sahli, an Ottawa-based bridal makeup artist, said she sometimes chooses long-wearing, waterproof products for her clients when they have long events.
She said she checks the ingredients carefully to make sure they don’t cause allergies or allergies, but she doesn’t know that PFAS could be in some products.
“I’m actually quite surprised,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve heard of that.”
Al-Sahli said she believes the results may increase distrust of cosmetics, and agrees with the idea of banning PFAS in cosmetics.
“If it can be avoided, 100 percent, I think these ingredients, these harmful ingredients should be avoided.”
Fe de Leon, a researcher and paralegal at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, which has conducted research on PFAS in order to address government proposals for such chemicals, called the study results “very important and surprising” because they indicate gaps in government requirements for labeling and testing products.
“I think this study will spark some conversations not just between our groups and NGOs, but certainly a conversation with the government to do more,” she said.