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July 28, 2021

Sustainable Cosmetics: How To Stay Safe From PFAS Contamination


If you’re a conscious shopper like me, you’ve gotten used to reading the labels at the grocery store. Maybe you even prefer to buy organic produce or packaged food made with ingredients you can recognize. We don’t wanna be poisoned, right?

But what if that poison was elsewhere? Somewhere harder to spot in an ingredient list?

Last month, the Green Science Policy Institute published a paper on a group of Fluorinated Compounds called PFAS, found in cosmetics. They’re highly toxic chemicals but, luckily, there’s a way to get rid of them.

In this post, you’ll learn about the dangers of PFAS Contamination in cosmetics, and how to protect yourself.

What Are The PFAS Compounds?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a special class of chemicals. Their molecular bonds are incredibly strong, which causes them to never break down in the environment. That’s why PFAS are called the “Forever Chemicals”. Yeah, once they’re in the environment (or inside our bodies), they’re there to stay.

You may be asking yourself why someone would even use these chemicals, right? Well, some may argue that PFAS are actually pretty useful. They’ve got strong stain and water repellency properties, and are good preservatives as well. In cosmetics, they’re used in waterproof products (like that lumpy waterproof mascara that’s been sitting in your drawer for far too long), long-lasting lipstick formulas, foundations, and more.

Why Are PFAS Dangerous?

While PFAS Compounds are useful, they’re also extremely harmful, and there’s no real need for them. They are linked with serious health issues, from cancer to obesity, and are even related to aggravated cases of COVID-19. Other than that, they can cause kidney and liver disease, as well as pregnancy issues such as pregnancy hypertension. The list goes onnnnnn. PFAS are toxins, and they contaminate and accumulate in our bodies when we ingest them. They also contaminate the drinking water (remember when I said that they’re “forever chemicals”? Yeah). But the silver lining is that the use of PFAS is also not a necessity. There are safe options available that can be used instead. Because harmful and unnecessary means that there’s NO sense in using PFAS anymore!

There are a few different ways to be contaminated with PFAS. There’s direct contact through the tear ducts (mascara, eyeliner), inhalation, or ingestion (lipstick), and an indirect form of contamination which happens when toxic waste containing PFAS reaches groundwater and then our drinking water and produce.

Aside from that, there’s the fact that PFAS don’t break down in the environment. That makes cleaning the chemicals an expensive endeavor, and scientists defend that prevention is the best form of dealing with this toxin. If it’s not out there, then governments don’t have to clean it up.

The presence of PFAS in your cosmetics is more often hidden than noticeable.

What Do Scientists Know About PFAS In Cosmetics?


Researchers analyzed 231 cosmetics samples from retailers such as Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond, from 2016 to 2020. They found higher levels of PFAS in over half of the products, mainly those advertised as “‘wear-resistant to water and oils or ‘long-lasting’ including foundations, lipsticks, and waterproof mascaras”, foundations being the ones with the highest levels. Out of the 231 cosmetics, only 8% had any PFAS listed on the label as an ingredient (can you believe it?!).

The Green Science Policy Institute is fighting hard against the use of PFAS Compounds. After their paper was out into the world, they published the bipartisan No PFAS in Cosmetics Act, requiring that the FDA prohibits the use of all PFAS in cosmetic products.


How Can I Avoid Contamination From PFAS In Cosmetics?


It may be tricky to track down the presence of fluorinated compounds in cosmetics, but there are general guidelines you can follow. According to the Green Science Policy Institute, ingredients like acrylate, methacrylate, methicone, dimethicone, synthetic mica, some pigments, and synthetic fluorphlogopite may contain PFAS. 

So yeah, it’s time to do your homework and read the labels in your cosmetics as well.

List Of PFAS-Free Brands

Because I know that reading labels is hard work, let me make your life a little easier by leaving you this list of brands that are making a serious effort to ban the use of PFAS in their products.

Shop PFAS-Free


Final Thoughts


If you’re still not sure whether a product contains PFAS, the Institute maintains a list of PFAS-Free brands with products ranging from cosmetics to carpets so you can stay safe. They also have their Scientific Paper available if you want to look further into their findings.

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