Consumers have high expectations when purchasing “green” beauty products, assuming that these products are free from harmful toxins and carcinogens. However, a recent investigation conducted by a consumer watchdog group examined over 80 green beauty cosmetics for the presence of organic fluorine, which serves as an indicator of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) known as “forever chemicals.” These chemicals earned the name “forever chemicals” due to their resistance to breaking down in both our bodies and the environment. PFAS, a class of thousands of mostly unregulated chemicals, have been linked to various health issues, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, immune problems, and reproductive issues, even at extremely low levels in the parts per trillion.
PFAS compounds are utilized in numerous products, ranging from furniture and food packaging to dental hygiene products, non-stick cookware, and firefighting foam. Shockingly, a 2021 study conducted by Notre Dame University found that 52% of tested conventional makeup products contained PFAS. Dr. Graham Peaslee, a physics professor and one of the authors of the study, highlighted that women who wear lipstick may end up consuming several pounds of it throughout their lifetime.
In another case, researchers from the United States and Canada conducted a study where they selected 231 cosmetic products from retail stores such as Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond. They analyzed these products for their fluorine content. The researchers found that certain categories of cosmetics typically contained higher concentrations of fluorine. Products that were advertised as “water-resistant,” “long-lasting,” including foundation creams, liquid lipsticks, and waterproof mascaras, had higher levels of fluorine.
Additionally, when the researchers analyzed another 29 products to determine the types of chemicals present in them, they discovered that each cosmetic product contained at least four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Many of these PFAS chemicals were not listed on product labels, making it challenging for consumers to consciously avoid them.
What Can Be Done of PFAS?
Some of the identified PFAS substances were known to break down into other chemicals that are toxic to the environment. While PFAS are added to cosmetics to modify surface properties, such as making them non-stick or resistant to water and oil, the presence of these substances in cosmetics raises concerns because they come into direct contact with the skin and face on a daily basis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has identified potential health consequences of PFAS exposure. These include increased cholesterol levels, an elevated risk of kidney and testicular cancer, development of diabetes, obesity, reduced vaccine response in children, and a higher risk of elevated blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant individuals.
Apart from cosmetics, people can also be exposed to PFAS through the consumption of contaminated food or water, as well as through food packaging. While it may be difficult to completely avoid PFAS, the CDC suggests reducing their impact by avoiding contaminated water and food.