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  • Are There Undisclosed PFAS in Cosmetic Products? Chromatography Investigates

Are There Undisclosed PFAS in Cosmetic Products? Chromatography Investigates

Jul 09 2021

In recent years, consumers have become increasingly concerned about what goes into the products they buy. That’s especially true when those products are being applied to their faces. We’re talking, of course, about cosmetics.

In a recent study at the University of Notre Dame, researchers found that a number of products contained PFAS despite not listing those ingredients on their labels.

What are PFAS?

PFAS stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, of which there are over 4,700 varieties. They are completely manmade and – as is often associated with manmade substances – take up to a thousand years to degrade. As a result, they’re often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’.

First used in the 1940s, they have a wide variety of uses, from stain-resistance to waterproofing. As a result, they’re found in an array of everyday products including non-stick cookware and waterproof coats.

But that’s not the end of it. In recent years, it’s become clear that waterproofing and stain-resistance might not be the only consequences of using PFAS. Studies have suggested that some forever chemicals may be linked with a number of health complications, including:

  • High cholesterol levels
  • Hypertension induced by pregnancy
  • Thyroid disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Cancer of the kidneys
  • Cancer of the testes

Do cosmetic products use PFAS?

While the studies linking PFAS and health complications are preliminary, there is clearly some cause for concern. With that in mind, consumers should at least be made aware of any products that contain them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Initial tests by US researchers found that over 200 cosmetic products from the US and Canada contained fluorine – with the highest levels found in foundations, liquid lipsticks and waterproof mascaras.

Because fluorine atoms are part of the chain that makes up PFAS molecules, this hinted at the presence of PFAS in those products, although less than 8% listed them on their labels.

That prompted further research from the team, with 29 products subject to closer analysis using liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry. The use of similar methods in drug discovery is discussed in the article, ‘The Only Thing Faster Than Ultra-Fast Is Instantaneous’.

Their analysis confirmed the presence of PFAS in all 29 products. Even worse, 20 contained high levels of PFAS, suggesting that manufacturers had added them intentionally to improve water-resistance or longevity of the products.

A wake-up call for the cosmetics industry

As well as the people using those products on their skin, hair or even their lips, the chemicals used in cosmetics can affect other people when they’re spread into their air and water during manufacturing or after use when they’re washed off.

According to David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, the findings “should be a wake-up call for the cosmetics industry.” He added, “some PFAS chemicals are highly toxic at very low doses, so no PFAS should be used in personal care products."


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