• Home/
  • News/
  • PFAS in cosmetics is anything but skin deep

PFAS in cosmetics is anything but skin deep
Asian woman removing make-up


PFAS in cosmetics is anything but skin deep

Published on 16 Jun 2021

The cosmetics industry would look a whole lot better without PFAS. Unfortunately, the make-over project of removing these chemicals from the beauty sector still has a long way to go. But test studies and legal tightening on this issue around the world makes us believe in a bright, glowing future.

A new study from GSPI (Green Science Policy Institute) found high levels of fluorine – indicating the presence of PFAS – in more than half of the 231 cosmetics samples tested. Out of these, 29 were tested for specific PFAS, and at least 4 substances of concern were found in each sample. Few of the tested products listed PFAS among the ingredients.

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a group of around 5,000 man-made chemicals, favoured for properties such as non-stick, water repellence and anti-grease.

They are used in many types of products, including cosmetics, food packaging, frying pans, outdoor gear and firefighting foam. The industrial use has been so prevalent in the past decades that 99% of all human beings, including foetuses, have measurable levels of PFAS in their bloodstreams.

“The industrial use has been so prevalent in the past decades that 99% of all human beings, including foetuses, have measurable levels of PFAS in their bloodstreams”

What is worrying is that studies on humans have found links between PFAS exposure and a number of health disorders, including various cancers, lowered birth weights and negative effects on the immune and endocrinological systems. Equally worrying is the fact that PFAS don’t degrade. These chemicals are extremely persistent and can remain in nature for hundreds – or even thousands – of years, hence the nickname “forever chemicals”.

Often added unnecessarily

ChemSec’s Senior Chemicals and Business Advisor Dr. Jonatan Kleimark is saddened, but not very surprised by the results of the new study.

“As usual, unfortunately, PFAS can be found in products where we really don’t want to find them. Cosmetics are especially problematic, since we apply to products on the skin, so the risk of the body absorbing the chemicals is high. Even if many cosmetics companies are progressive and have phased out PFAS, there is still a lot to do within this sector. However, there are many alternatives for these chemicals. The specific function of PFAS in cosmetics is often unclear. In many cases, these chemicals are not even necessary”, he says.

“Millions of people are unknowingly wearing PFAS and other harmful chemicals on their faces and bodies daily”

Dr. Graham Peaslee, senior author of the study and professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, points out the many ways in which a person using cosmetics may be exposed to the chemicals. Apart from the risk of the body absorbing the PFAS through the skin, the substances could also be accidentally inhaled – or ingested, he says:

Things are moving on the legislative front

Shortly after the study was published yesterday, the “No PFAS in Cosmetics Act” was introduced in the US House and Senate.

In Europe, following the publication of the Chemical Strategy, the European Commission is expected to revise the Cosmetics Directive. The most significant change will be that hazardous chemicals – including PFAS – won’t be allowed in cosmetic products.

Join our webinar on cosmetics without PFAS

Beauty without PFAS and how to future-proof your cosmetics brand is the theme of our webinar on June 22nd. In addition, IDUN Minerals will share their work on these harmful substances.

Sign up and join the webinar to learn more about PFAS in cosmetics, the EU Commission’s revision of the Cosmetics Directive, and how to keep up with legislation.