Yes, there are “forever chemicals” in your makeup – even if they’re not listed on the label. That’s what the a recent study indicates. If you don’t know what Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are, they’re the group of chemicals that were featured in the film Dark Waters, the book Exposure by Rob Bilott, the lawyer working to bring their harmful effects to light, and I’ve written about them here. PFAS are described as manmade (synthetic) chemicals that will never break down in the environment or your body, and these chemicals are associated with a wide array of human health harms.
The terrible problem with chemicals that are persistent pollutants, like PFAS chemicals, is that they don’t break down in the environment OR in our bodies. They aren’t part of the natural cycle. As a result, they linger – forever – and accumulate. The PFAS category of chemicals includes over 9,000 specific structures. Some have been found in studies to be associated with a weakened immune response, cancer, liver damage, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and more.
Last week, scientists and politicians gathered to announce a proposed ban on PFAS chemicals for cosmetics through bipartisan legislation. As Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), said when announcing the introduction of a bipartisan No PFAS in Cosmetics Act, co-sponsored by Senators Collins (R-ME), Gillibrand (D-NY), “These chemicals are a menace.”
He also said it was time to sound the alarm and made a plea to manufacturers to move ahead, prior to the ban taking place, in eliminating these chemicals from use.
The legislation was announced alongside the publication of a peer-reviewed study which found that around half of 231 samples of lip, eye and face products tested contained PFAS ingredients.
Additionally, it is noted that the products covered by this legislation are used directly on the body, providing direct access for PFAS chemicals to enter your bloodstream through the mouth and eyes.
Linda Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences(NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP), noted that PFAS chemicals are in our air, water, food, and products. She stressed that not a single one of these chemicals appear in nature. She wasn’t always allowed to speak out about the harms of PFAS chemicals but she is now.
What this specific work points to is that these chemicals are entering the supply chain, being used in consumer goods, but not always being disclosed. Though the study isn’t releasing the names of products or brands, the idea is that this practice appears fairly widespread, given the sample size of products tested and the results.
So, how do you begin to protect yourself from PFAS chemicals in your cosmetics?
1. Use simple products with few ingredients.
Be on the lookout for ingredients on packaging with long chemical names that include “fluoro.” Here are a few ingredients where PFAS lurk in ingredient list – if they’re labeled (this is in no way an exhaustive list):
- Acetyl trifluoromethylphenyl valylglycine
- Ammonium C6-16 perfluoroalkylethyl phosphate
- C9-15 Fluoroalcohol phosphate
- Methyl perfluorobutyl ether
- Perfluorononyl dimethicone
- Perfluorononylethyl carboxydecyl PEG-10 dimethicone
- Perfluorooctyl triethoxysilane
- Trifluoropropyl demethiconol
- Henicosafluoroundecanoic acid
- Heptacosafluorotetradecanoic acid
- Perfluorobutyric acid
2. If you’re not sure of an ingredient, look it up on the MADE SAFE Banned List of 6,500 harmful ingredients and substances to see if it’s a more commonly used PFAS ingredient.
3. Stay away from waterproof makeup and products.
4. Be careful with products labelled as “anti-caking” – especially in powders and pressed makeup.
5. Look for products made by companies that have made a substantial commitment to ban harmful substances and use third-party verification.
6. Follow the Green Science Policy Institute to learn more about PFAS chemicals in your environment and how to avoid them.