April 22, 2024

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Understanding Long-Lasting PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Understanding Long-Lasting PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products


Behind the Beauty: Understanding Long-Lasting PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Amy Rand is an assistant professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at Carleton University and conducted research about heath affects related to PFAS .

“Permanent chemicals” aka PFAS, found in cosmetics and personal care products, pose environmental and health concerns due to their persistence and accumulation in the body and ecosystems.

Canadian studies have found high levels of PFAS in these products, which is linked to increased levels of PFAS in the human body, and the European Union and the US state of California are trying to ban PFAS in cosmetics.


Understanding Long-Lasting PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products



Cosmetics and personal care products enhance our looks, and during the pandemic, many of us are experimenting with self-care facial routines at home. It has helped me cope with lockdown while adjusting to my new role as a mum. I use toners, serums and creams to brighten the mornings and relax the nights.


But many of these products contain chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “permanent chemicals.” They are used as ingredients to make products waterproof, long-lasting, and to help them spread smoothly and evenly across the skin.


European data show that there are approximately 170 PFAS ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products. With over 80,000 kg of PFAS potentially released into wastewater and solid waste streams each year after product use, this is a significant source of PFAS in the environment.


PFAS are persistent environmental pollutants, which give them the properties of commercial use, especially their stability, but also means that there are no environmental mechanisms to degrade them, so they accumulate. PFAS are found worldwide, including in remote places like the Arctic.

PFAS also accumulate in the body. The Canadian Health Measures Survey sampled the blood of thousands of people and found several PFAS in all participants.


The main sources of people’s exposure to PFAS are through diet, drinking contaminated water, or ingesting foods such as fish or meat. Biosolids used as fertilizer in agricultural fields may contain PFAS due to the inability of wastewater treatment plants to remove PFAS.


Thus, PFAS are transferred to crops and animals via biosolids. Likewise, PFAS are added to personal care products, washed off after use, and enter wastewater treatment plants, causing global environmental problems.



PFAS in Personal Care Products

In our study, we measured PFAS in cosmetic and personal care products purchased in Canada. Products include perms, concealers, foundations, shaving creams , sunscreens and moisturizers.

PFAS are extracted from each product and measured using a mass spectrometer. These instruments can identify individual PFASs present in products at levels as high as a milligram or as low as a trillionth of a gram.

Particularly high levels came from products containing: C6-16 perfluoroalkylethyl phosphate, perfluorooctyltriethoxysilane and perfluorobutyl ether. The Canadian government has banned some PFAS products, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and any chemicals that degrade to produce PFOA.

Newly proposed Canadian PFAS regulations would set a threshold level of 1 microgram per gram in products. This means that PFAS at or below this level will be incidental and the ban will not apply. However, our finding of PFAS in some products—including those banned from use—was up to a thousand times higher than incidental levels—suggesting a lack of oversight in the management of PFAS in the personal care products industry.



What can high PFAS levels bring about?

Epidemiological studies have shown that PFAS levels in the body are associated with frequent use of cosmetic and personal care products. A US study noted that women who typically wear foundation have higher levels of PFAS in their blood.

A study from South Korea linked cosmetic and personal care product use to higher PFAS levels in breast milk.


Another study illustrates this trend more directly.

PFOA is purposefully added to sunscreens to determine whether levels in a person’s blood increase after use.

Over three weeks, the use of sunscreen produced PFOA equivalent to about 10 percent of the total PFOA in his body. This suggests that daily use of PFAS-containing sunscreens in summer — and frequent use of other PFAS-containing cosmetic and personal care products — can lead to high blood levels.


Unlike other chemicals, certain PFAS such as PFOA are persistent. This means that even small amounts of PFAS that humans are exposed to can accumulate over time. The half-life of PFOA in the human body is about two years.


Even after this time point, half of the PFOS remains and it will take even more years to eliminate it. However, continued exposure from multiple sources, including the use of cosmetics and personal care products, ensures that PFOA, and similar PFAS, will never be eliminated.



Health effects

In Canada, PFAS with adverse health effects frequently measured in the environment are banned. This includes PFOA and PFOS, long-chain PFCA, and any compound that can degrade to produce them. This is a broader regulatory approach than in other regions, including the US, which restricts individual PFAS.


But other regions are taking a broader approach. The EU’s proposed ban would eliminate thousands of PFAS. The state of California is planning to effectively eliminate any PFAS ingredients used in cosmetics and clothing by 2025.


Canada should consider a similar approach as a solution to protect people from exposure to these chemicals when using cosmetic and personal care products, and to eliminate their transfer to the environment after use.


Some cosmetics retailers, such as Sephora, will note when PFAS chemicals are present in products.



Regulatory and Information

One solution: simply ban PFAS in cosmetics and personal care products. Some makeup retailers like Sephora don’t include PFAS in their “clean” makeup lists so consumers can avoid them. But cosmetics and personal care products containing PFAS are still readily available in Canada.


PFAS are not on the Canadian Cosmetic Ingredient Hot List, which contains ingredients that are prohibited from being used in cosmetic and personal care products sold in Canada. Environmental groups, regulators, and industry should work together to stop the use of PFAS in cosmetic and personal care products and use other ingredients that serve the same purpose.


At the very least, people should be aware of PFAS in these products through clear labeling so they can make an informed decision. Since completing this research, I have screened my products for ingredients only to find that several products contain PFAS. I switched to other products.









Understanding Long-Lasting PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

(source:internet, reference only)

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