Dangerous PFAS Chemicals In Cosmetics
We typically think of cosmetics as a way to enhance beauty, express ourselves and increase confidence. Wearing makeup is a daily self-care ritual for millions of women.
The cosmetics industry is a multibillion dollar industry. In 2019, personal care products brought in over 100 billion dollars, with 20 billion coming from cosmetics alone.
But we don’t often think about the dark side of this industry: makeup is full of toxins and may pose health risks to consumers. Skin is absorbent and toxins easily enter the body this way.
A new research study identified hidden “forever chemicals,” called PFAS, in common North American cosmetics that disrupt hormones and contribute to women’s health issues.
When searching for the root cause of health issues, could it be what you are putting on your skin?
This article addresses the following:
- PFAS definition
- New research on widespread hidden PFAS in cosmetics
- What PFAS exposure means for women’s health and fertility
- Key action items to reduce PFAS exposures
What Are PFAS?
PFAS stands for per- and Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. This is a class of fluorinated chemicals includes more than 4700 individual chemicals. PFAS have been widely used since the 1950s for their nonstick, coating and sealing properties.
PFAS are considered “forever chemicals” or persistent chemicals because they don’t break down. Instead, these chemicals accumulate in the environment, animals and humans.
The amount of PFAS produced and in the environment has increased exponentially over the last 10 years. Virtually all Americans have multiple PFAS detectable in their blood.
PFAS are toxic and linked to serious health conditions. They are found widely in consumer products, including:
- Nonstick cookware
- Waterproof or flame retardant clothing and fabrics
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially those used in fire fighting
- Fast food wrappers
For more information about where you find PFAS and environmental contamination, read PFAS – Health Risks And How to Protect Yourself.
PFAS In Cosmetics
In a 2021 publication in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, Notre Dame researchers tested cosmetic products available in the United States and Canada for the presence of fluorine, an indicator PFAS use in the product.
The study tested 231 cosmetic products purchased at retail locations and online, including concealers, foundations, eye products, mascara, eyebrow and lip products.
Testing revealed the following:
- 56% of foundations and eye products contained PFAS
- 48% of lip products contained PFAS
- 47% of mascaras contained PFAS
Twenty nine products with high fluorine levels were further tested and determined to contain between four and 13 different PFAS each.
The products containing PFAS were more likely to be labeled as long lasting, wear resistant or waterproof. This is because PFAS have film-forming properties. They are used in cosmetics to increase durability and water resistance of the makeup.
What’s more is that only eight percent of the 231 cosmetic products had PFAS listed on the label! The majority of the products with the highest levels of PFAS also did not have the chemicals listed on the labels at all!
In both the United States and Canada, testing of cosmetics is not required for safety of ingredients.
In addition, labeling requirements are lax. Labeling is not required for a variety of chemicals used in cosmetics considered to be a part of proprietary formulas.
Even if labeling was required, with thousands of PFAS, consumers may not even know what to look for on labels in order to avoid them.
Exposures to PFAS contributes to individual health risks for women as they apply these products on their skin, as we will discuss below, but also presents a collective risk.
PFAS contaminate the environment from the production of PFAS themselves, the manufacture of cosmetics and other PFAS-containing products and eventually via landfill disposal.
Groundwater contamination and the persistence of these chemicals in the environment well after they are used affect us all.
PFAS, Cosmetics And Women’s Health
Human exposure to PFAS is linked to a long list of health concerns, including:
- Kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid disease
- Low birth weight
- Immune disruption and dysfunction
- Hormone disruption
- Liver damage
- Developmental and reproductive harm
Women’s hormonal systems are particularly susceptible to PFAS and other toxins that act as endocrine disruptors, which may have consequences for fertility and reproduction.
PFAS have effects on the ovaries and are found in follicular fluid, meaning they are able to make their way into the follicle where eggs develop.
Higher PFAS exposure in women is linked to:
- Later onset of the first period (menarche)
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Longer menstrual cycles
- Earlier menopause
- Reduced levels of estrogens and androgens
- Diminished ovarian reserves
- Decreased thyroid hormones, important for maintaining pregnancy
- An increased amount of time it takes to become pregnant
- Pregnancy complications
PFAS may also affect male fertility, seen largely in animals, but seem to affect the stem cells that turn into sperm in humans as well.
Key Action Steps For PFAS Reduction
It may seem defeating given how widespread PFAS seem to be in cosmetics and the environment, but knowledge is key.
With this information, we can all make simple choices that decrease our daily exposures, support companies making non-toxic products and also advocate for changes at a larger scale.
Here are some easy ways to start:
1. Choose safe cosmetics. This may seem obvious, but with such lax labeling laws, it can be hard to know what is really in your go-to products.
Start by searching for your current cosmetics and skin-care products through EWG’s Skin Deep Database. Here you’ll see rankings and objective information about thousands of products.
If you need to upgrade your cosmetics, choose companies that are open about their ingredients, test products for contaminants and are committed to non-toxic ingredients. A Dr. Shippy favorite is Nadia Skin Care.
2. Remember that skin health is an inside job. Much of what shows up on our skin is a reflection of our internal health.
If you are looking to improve your skin and maybe even use less makeup, consider the health of your gut, microbiome support, nutrient-dense food choices, metabolic function, hydration and detoxification as key factors.
Working with a Functional Medicine provider will provide support for uncovering your specific root causes and feeling radiant in your skin again.
3. Get political. In response to the Notre Dame cosmetics research discussed above, a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to ban PFAS in cosmetics.
Another bill in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to create a national drinking water standard and designate PFAS as a hazardous substance. Let’s show our support!
A new law in Maine limits six types of PFAS in drinking water and helps to protect public water and water used in schools and daycares.
In a previous article on PFAS, many other strategies are covered to help reduce exposures in your daily life.
Be sure to check the article out for all of the details, but here is a quick summary of additional action items:
- Avoid non-stick cookware and choose cast iron, stainless steel or glass instead.
- Cook more at home to avoid PFAS in food packaging. Here are some delicious recipes to try.
- Invest in a quality water filter.
- Invest in a quality indoor air filter.
- Be a smart and informed consumer when it comes to clothing, home furnishings and other household items.
Many of these action items are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family, while supporting leaders that advocate for environmental and human health protection.
Instead of being a victim to these chemicals, let’s be empowered to create better health and a better world.
It starts with our awareness, what we bring into our homes and what we put on our skin.