Why are there toxic, forever chemicals PFAS in make-up?
During 2021 the Swedish Chemical Agency has been investigating the presence of the chemical group PFAS in cosmetics and toiletries. This is part of ongoing work by five countries across Europe who are proposing a broad restriction of these chemicals.
What are PFAS?
PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances), also known as the “forever chemicals”, are a group of over 4700 highly persistent chemicals that can be toxic to humans and wildlife. Certain PFAS promote the development of cancers, and interfere with the hormone, reproductive and immune systems. PFAS also hardly degrade in the natural environment, with some taking more than 1,000 years to degrade in the soil. The chemicals have been gaining attention since the Hollywood hit, Dark Waters, highlighted severe health impacts of one chemical in the PFAS family, PFOA.
But the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals are a still a real life, pressing issue far from the glamour of Hollywood.
Why are PFAS in make up?
PFAS have a wide range of uses in different consumer products and in cosmetics they provide properties from emulsifiers to surfactants and viscosity regulators. In the investigation by the Swedish Chemicals Agency, PFAS were found in a wide range of make-up products including shampoos, lipstick, sunscreens, eyeliners to name but a few. These findings reinforce a study CHEM Trust took part in last year which found that a wide range of potentially harmful chemicals are still present in products we can buy on the high street and online.
Why are PFAS allowed in cosmetics?
Chemicals that have the most toxic effects on human health, such as causing cancer and disrupting reproduction are banned in cosmetics in the EU and UK. However, most PFAS have not yet been categorised into these hazard classes and are therefore still allowed in personal care and cosmetic products. These substances are of concern even in low doses, due to the fact that we are exposed to a mixture of numerous chemicals everyday whose combined effects can be very concerning.
As a consumer, there are a few ways you can try and reduce your exposure to PFAS and other harmful chemicals, check out our page here. When buying cosmetics, try to avoid substances containing chemicals with ‘fluoro’ in their name or PTFE to reduce your exposure to PFAS.
As the action individuals can take to reduce their chemical exposure is limited, CHEM Trust’s mission is to ensure harmful synthetic chemicals are properly regulated. We are pushing for group restrictions on harmful chemicals that would address the regulatory gap around PFAS and are calling for these chemicals to only be used where they are deemed essential.
Find out more about what action we want to see on PFAS here.