High Levels of Toxic Chemicals Found in Top Make‑Up Brands’ Products: Study
Researchers have found “high” levels of extremely toxic chemicals in make-up products such as eyeliners and lipsticks produced by some of the world’s biggest beauty brands.
Published in Environmental Science and Technology, their study showed that 52% of the 200+ products the researchers examined contained high levels of fluorine. Fluorine is a key component of PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, that are resistant to water, heat, and oil — a quality that explains their ubiquity especially in beauty products marketed as “waterproof,” “wear-resistant,” or “long-lasting.” They are also known as “forever chemicals” — dangerous because they don’t break down naturally and are known to accumulate in human bodies over time.
“This is the first study to look at total fluorine or PFAS in cosmetics so we just didn’t know what we were going to find,” Thomas Bruton, senior scientist with the Green Science Policy Institute in the U.S., who was involved in the study, told The Guardian. The researchers say they had not expected to find such large amounts of PFAS in make-up products.
While the study included an examination of major global beauty brands like L’Oréal, Mac, Clinique, Maybelline, Smashbox, and Nars, among others, the researchers refused to reveal which brands used toxic chemicals in their products — to avoid “pick[ing] on” specific brands.
However, they revealed the kind of products that most frequently contained these hazardous “forever chemicals”: 82% of the brands tested found PFAS in mascara, 63% in foundations, and 62% in liquid lipsticks. PFAS were also found to be present in eyeliners, concealers, lip balms, blush, and even nail polish. And almost none of the products found to contain PFAS actually listed these chemicals on the product label as ingredients.
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At present, the chemicals are unregulated in several countries, including India — especially in terms of their usage in cosmetic products. But, several studies have tied PFAS to increased risk of heart disease, ovarian insufficiency or early menopause, lower testosterone levels in male adolescents, high blood pressure, decreased lung function, and even cancer. Additionally, a recent study also linked the class of chemicals to worse outcomes in patients of Covid19.
Given the presence of these chemicals in products that people directly apply on their skin, eyelashes, and lips, the findings are worrying. Past research has also shown that lipstick users do ingest several pounds of lipstick in their lifetimes — a fact that is especially alarming in the context of the present study. Moreover, the researchers noted that PFAS in make-up can also be absorbed through one’s tear ducts, as well as their skin.
“This is a product that people are spreading on their skin day after day, so there’s really a potential for significant exposure,” Bruton added.
Notably, experts say that the risk of using waterproof, long-lasting products isn’t worth the considerable harm they cause to our bodies. “Even if PFAS were the only ingredients that could confer these properties, avoiding runny mascara or smudged lipstick isn’t worth an increased risk of cancer or obesity,” Arlene Blum, founder and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, who was involved in the study, co-wrote in The Hill.
“PFAS are not necessary for make-up… It’s past time to get the entire class of PFAS out of cosmetics and keep these harmful chemicals out of our bodies,” Blum said in a statement.