Cosmetics Study Prompts Legislation to Ban PFAs



A study published today (June 15, 2021) in Environmental Science & Technology Letters surveyed some 231 cosmetics and revealed the presence of high levels of fluorinated compounds in some products. According to the authors, this indicates the probable presence of PFAS and calls the safety of the products into question. Additionally, the PFAS were undisclosed in product ingredient lists—exposing a gap in U.S. and Canadian label laws, the authors report. As a result, U.S. senators are introducing the "No PFAS in Cosmetics" Act to ban PFAS from makeup and personal care products.

The 231 cosmetics studied included lip products, eye products, foundations, face products, mascaras, concealers, eyebrow products and "miscellaneous products." Analyzed using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE), the authors found that, "Foundations produced the highest median total fluorine concentration, while mascaras produced the largest range of total fluorine measurements."

The authors concluded: "The cosmetic categories that had the highest percentage of high fluorine products were foundations (63%), eye products (58%), mascaras (47%) and lip products (55%)."

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According to the article abstract, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are highly persistent and potentially toxic. They are added to cosmetics to increase durability and water resistance.

To assess the risk these products pose to human health and the environment, researchers from the University of Notre Dame, the Green Science Policy Institute and others purchased 231 products in the United States and Canada and screened them for total fluorine content using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy. 

Fluorinated Findings

Of the eight categories tested, foundations, mascaras and liquid lip products contained the highest proportion of fluorinated products. Many of these were advertised as "wear-resistant" or "long-lasting." Twenty-nine products including 20 with high total fluorine concentrations were then further analyzed using targeted LC-MS/MS and GC-MS.

PFAS concentrations ranged from 33−10,500 ng/g product weight, with an average and a median of 264 and 1050 ng/g product weights, respectively. In this case, 6:2 and 8:2 fluorotelomer compounds, including alcohols, methacrylates and phosphate esters, were most commonly detected. These compounds are precursors to PFCAs that are known to be harmful, the authors noted. 

With fluorotelomer methacrylates being detected, the institute adds this indicates the breakdown of side-chain fluoropolymers, which are marketed as a more "environmentally friendly" alternatives to individual PFAS. 

Furthermore, the ingredient lists of most products tested did not disclose the presence of these fluorinated compounds. While this may be due to their being byproducts from manufacturing or degradation products, given that consumers are directly exposed to these materials, the authors expressed better regulations are necessary to limit the widespread use of PFAS in cosmetics.

'No PFAs in Cosmetics' Act

Right on cue, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and others are introducing the "No PFAS in Cosmetics" Act to ban PFAS from makeup and personal care products, according to a report by the Green Science Policy Institute.

Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan also plan to introduce the same bill in the House. Sen. Blumenthal, Rep. Dingell, former National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Director Linda Birnbaum, attorney Rob Bilott and two of the study's authors will be holding a Zoom conference for cosmetic companies and the media at 12:30 pm Eastern today.

Safety Issues and Exposure Routes

According to a Green Science Policy press statement, some PFAS have been associated with health issues ranging from cancer to obesity to more severe COVID-19 outcomes, and they can contaminate drinking water. Only a small fraction of PFAS reportedly have been tested for toxicity but all are either very persistent in the environment or break down into very persistent PFAS.

PFAS reportedly may be ingested from lip products or absorbed through the skin and tear ducts, the institute reports. On top of these direct exposure routes, PFAS can make their way into drinking water, air and food during the manufacture of makeup and after it is washed down the drain.

"PFAS are not necessary for makeup," said Arlene Blum, a co-author and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "Given their large potential for harm, I believe they should not be used in any personal care products. ... It’s past time to get the entire class of PFAS out of cosmetics and keep these harmful chemicals out of our bodies."


PFAS appear to be the latest addition to the growing list of targeted cosmetic ingredients. As previously reported, these materials are concerning to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although reports to the voluntary cosmetic registration program indicate the number of formulations containing PFAS has decreased.

“Science continues to advance in this area and will continue to collaborate and conduct research on the gaps,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), in a previous report. She added the FDA created a web page about PFAs to help the public better understand these materials.

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