More than half of cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada are packed with a toxic industrial compound associated with serious health problems, including cancer and low birth weight, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of eye foundations and products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascara contain fluoride, an indicator that have perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are also used in nonstick pans, rugs, and a host of other consumer products.
Waterproof mascara (82%) and long-wear lipstick (62%) had some of the highest levels of PFAS, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
Additional tests were conducted on the 29 products with the highest levels of fluoride and found to contain between four and 13 PFAS, according to the study. Only one item mentioned the presence of PFAS on its ingredient label.
A spokeswoman for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cosmetics, said the agency does not comment on specific studies.
The FDA indicated on its website that there have been few studies of the presence of chemicals in cosmetics and that, in general, those that have been published found that the concentration is very low, at the level of up to hundreds of parts per million , and they are unlikely to affect the population.
A fact sheet posted on the agency’s website notes that the agency will continue to monitor data voluntarily provided by industry and published studies “as the science around PFAS in cosmetics advances.”
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However, PFAS are an increasingly worrisome problem for legislators seeking to regulate their use in consumer products. The results of the study came at a time when a bipartisan group of senators introduced an initiative to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics and other beauty items.
“There is nothing certain and nothing good about PFAS,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who introduced the cosmetics initiative along with Republican Senator Susan Collins. “These chemicals are a hidden threat in plain sight that people literally put on their faces every day.”
The Environmental Protection Agency also collects information on the uses and health risks of PFAS while weighing regulations to reduce potential risks caused by the chemical.
The Personal Care Products Council, a business association representing the cosmetics industry, noted in a statement that a small amount of PFAS can be found as ingredients or at minimal levels in products such as lotions, nail polishes, makeup for eyes and bases.
The substances are used for product consistency and texture and are subject to FDA safety requirements, said Alexandra Kowcz, the council’s chief scientific officer.
“Our member companies take responsibility for product safety and families’ trust in those products very seriously,” he said, adding that the group is in favor of banning certain PFAS in cosmetics. “Science and safety are the foundation of everything we do.”
However, Graham Peaslee, a physics professor at Notre Dame and the study’s principal investigator, noted that cosmetics pose an immediate and long-term risk. “PFAS are a persistent chemical. When they get into the bloodstream, they stay there and accumulate,” Peaslee said.
The study does not mention specific companies.
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