Study Finds Half of all US & Canadian Cosmetics Contain PFAS

Cosmetic PFAS

The days of commercial products containing harmful levels of lead, mercury, and even radioactive substances may seem long gone, but a new study from the University of Notre Dame has found that over half of the cosmetics sold in the US contain Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals linked to health conditions like cancer and reduced birth weights. The study contradicts those performed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said that its studies found negligible amounts of toxic chemicals. The Notre Dame study has since prompted questions and worries about the safety of this important consumer market.

ABC: Good Morning America - What to know about 'forever chemicals' found in some cosmetics, June 16, 2021

Why This Matters

PFAS are considered "forever chemicals." Once they enter an environment, they are nearly impossible to remove. As plastic manufacturing has risen, so has the presence of PFAS.

  • Recently, several Massachusetts towns were plagued by PFAS in their drinking water supply.
  • In April, researchers found PFAS on Mount Everest -- most likely left there due to climbing gear manufactured with this class of chemicals.

PFAS have been linked to cancer, weakened immunity, and low birth weight. One study found that people with high levels of PFAS in their blood were at greater risk of severe COVID-19. The prevalence of PFAS in cosmetics also disproportionately affects women as 60% of women 18 and older wear makeup several times per week or every day, and many often begin using makeup well before the age of 18.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Forever Chemicals - If You Don't Know, Now You Know, March 5, 2020

Taking Action

Researchers tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products, and 47% of mascaras contained "forever chemicals."

  • Waterproof mascara and long-wear lipstick were most likely to contain PFAS, with 86% and 62% containing PFAS, respectively.
  • Some products were found to have between four and 13 PFAS, but only one product out of 230 listed the chemicals as an ingredient.
  • The density of PFAS varied; some products had only a few parts to billion, but others contained thousands of parts per billion, an amount that researchers called "worrisome."

A bipartisan group of lawmakers recently introduced a bill to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics and beauty products. "These chemicals are a menace hidden in plain sight that people literally display on their faces every day," said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced the bill alongside Senator Susan Collins (R-ME).

The EPA is also making moves to investigate the threat that cosmetic PFAS pose to the environment. But the Personal Care Products Council, a trade organization, says that companies are already doing enough to ensure safety. "Our member companies take their responsibility for product safety and the trust families put in those products very seriously," said the Council's chief scientist, Alexandra Kowcz.

Although no specific companies were named in the study, consumers and lawmakers are deeply concerned about PFAS exposure. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) said she couldn't even be sure her makeup was PFAS-free because the label didn't include them. Blumenthal -- who said he does not wear makeup -- called the findings a betrayal of consumer trust, "We've trusted you, and you betrayed us." Now, he's calling on consumers to raise the alarm, "Aware and angry consumers are the most effective advocates."

Green Science Policy Institute: PFAS in Cosmetics Press Conference, June 16, 2021.