The study recently published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters surveyed some 231 cosmetics purchased in the United States and Canada  and therefore submitted to the regulations concerning chemicals in cosmetics in these countries. However, this new research builds on previous, more limited studies that detected PFAS in cosmetics sold in Europe and Japan.
Using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to rapidly screen total fluorine concentrations, the researchers first found that most of the waterproof mascaras, liquid lipsticks and foundations tested contained fluorine. According to the authors, this indicates the “probable presence” of PFAS in the tested items.
In detail, more than three quarters of the waterproof mascaras analyzed — but also nearly two thirds of the foundations and liquid lipsticks, and more than half of the eye and lip products — had high concentrations of fluorine, the researchers state.
At least four specific PFAS in certain products
The products with the highest levels of fluorine were analyzed further. The verdict: they all contained at least four PFAS that the researchers consider to be "of concern."
A total of twenty-nine products were selected for further analysis, which revealed detectable levels of at least four specific PFAS in all of them. The study authors note that these included "PFAS that break down into other PFAS that are known to be highly toxic and environmentally harmful."
Sometimes referred to as "forever chemicals," PFAS have been the subject of various studies and evaluations, some highlighting how these compounds can remain in the environment or have harmful effects on health.
Not on the label
The study also revealed that only a scarce few products, among those that were further analyzed, mentioned the presence of these substances on their ingredients list.
According to the authors of the study, this may be linked to the “series of exemptions and generalized guidelines for polymers, silanes and siloxanes, color additives, and substituted compounds” that complicate the use of the International Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) Dictionary and Handbook.
Manufacturers assess products safety, says PCPC
According to the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), the trade association that gathers the main producers of cosmetic and personal care products in the USA, some of the fluorine levels detected in the study could be the result of trace amounts from materials naturally occurring in the environment or as a result of the manufacturing process. "Since trace amounts are not intentionally added to products, they are not required to be listed on the label. FDA recognizes their possible presence and offers guidance on allowable levels," commented Alexandra Kowcz, Chief Scientist, Personal Care Products Council.
“All cosmetic products and their ingredients are subject to the same safety requirement under the FD&C Act - they must be shown to be safe for consumers before they are marketed. The labeling of those products must be truthful and not misleading,” she added.
In the wake of the publication of the study, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill titled "No PFAS in Cosmetics Act" in order to require the FDA to ban the addition of PFAS to cosmetic products.
“Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of chemicals with more than 6,000 ingredients and widely differing chemistries. It is inappropriate to assume that anything with a fluorine atom has the same safety profile. (...) PCPC, working with the Environmental Working Group, has supported prohibition of certain PFAS from use in cosmetics. Our member companies take their responsibility for product safety and the trust families put in those products very seriously. Science and safety are the foundation for everything we do,” emphasized Alexandra Kowcz.