Toxic cancer-causing chemicals have been detected in more than half of commonly used cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada, a study has found.
New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that many of the cosmetics contain high levels of chemicals which are resistant to breaking down in the environment—known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and an array of other health problems.
More than 230 commonly used cosmetics were analyzed in the study, published Tuesday in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology Letters.
Researchers found that high levels of fluorine were detected in 56 percent of foundations and eye products, 48 percent of lip products and 47 percent of mascaras. Fluorine is an indicator of PFAS, used in a wide range of products including stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpets, as well as cleaning products, paints, water repellents, and fire-fighting foams.
According to the study, some of the highest levels of the man-made “forever chemicals” were detected in waterproof mascara, 82 percent, and long-lasting lipstick, 62 percent.
“These results are particularly concerning when you consider the risk of exposure to the consumer combined with the size and scale of a multibillion-dollar industry that provides these products to millions of consumers daily,” said lead researcher Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at Notre Dame.
“There’s the individual risk—these are products that are applied around the eyes and mouth with the potential for absorption through the skin or at the tear duct, as well as possible inhalation or ingestion,” he added.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences (NIEHS), PFAS chemicals gradually accumulate and generally remain in a body over time “due to more intake than excretion of the chemicals.”
“PFAS is a persistent chemical—when it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates,” Peaslee warned. “There’s also the additional risk of environmental contamination associated with the manufacture and disposal of these products, which could affect many more people.”
The study found that when 29 products with high fluorine concentrations were subject to further tests, they were found to contain between four and 13 specific PFAS. But only one of these products listed PFAS as an ingredient on its label.
“This is a red flag,” Peaslee said. “Our measurements indicate widespread use of PFAS in these products—but it’s important to note that the full extent of use of fluorinated chemicals in cosmetics is hard to estimate due to lack of strict labeling requirements in both countries.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cosmetics, states on its website that, “As the science on PFAS in cosmetics continues to advance, the FDA will continue to monitor″ published research and voluntary data submitted by the industry.
The results of the study were released as a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a bill to ban the use of the toxic chemicals in cosmetics products. The “No PFAS in Cosmetics Act” was introduced by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on June 15.
“There is nothing safe and nothing good about PFAS,″ said Blumenthal in a statement. “These chemicals are a menace hidden in plain sight that people literally display on their faces every day.”
The measure would direct the FDA to issue a proposed rule banning the intentional addition of PFAS in cosmetics, within 270 days of enactment. It would also require a final rule to be issued 90 days after that.
The proposed legislation “will save millions of people from putting poison on their faces,” said Blumenthal.