Do you know what ingredients are in mascara and the other makeup products you use?

Makeup may contain potentially toxic chemicals called PFAS, study finds

Updated 7:46 PM ET, Tue June 15, 2021

(CNN)The "No PFAS in Cosmetics Act" was introduced in the US House and Senate on Tuesday, following the release of a new study that found high levels of a marker for toxic PFAS substances in 52% of 231 makeup products purchased in the United States and Canada.

Some of the highest levels were found in foundations (63%), waterproof mascara (82%) and long-lasting lipstick (62%), according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
In addition, the study found some 88% of the tested products failed to disclose on their labels any ingredients that would explain those chemical markers, even though that is a requirement of the US Food and Drug Administration.
"It's a little shocking and hopefully a wake-up call for the cosmetics industry in terms of how widespread the PFAS contamination is across types of makeup products," said David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a consumer organization that maintains a database on personal care products which contain toxins.
"The most common PFAS is polytetrafluoroethylene, the ingredient most commonly known as Teflon, or the coating on pans. But alll in all, we have identified 13 different PFAS chemicals in more than 600 products from 80 brands," said Andrews, who was not involved in the study.
The bill was introduced in the US Senate on Tuesday by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and in the House by Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan.
"Americans should be able to trust that the products they are applying to their hair or skin are safe. To help protect people from further exposure to PFAS, our bill would require the FDA to ban the addition of PFAS to cosmetics products," said Collins in a statement.
"Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals, which includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX. These chemicals can bioaccumulate in bodies over time and have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, decreased fertility, and hormone disruption," the statement said.
In an email to CNN Health, Dingell said, "These chemicals are in products that we use every single day and most people don't even know the danger they face daily."
The proposed act would direct the FDA to issue a proposed rule banning the intentional addition of PFAS in cosmetics within 270 days of enactment, with a final rule to be issued 90 days thereafter.

Lack of disclosure

The new study used a marker for PFAS -- the chemical fluorine, which is different than the inorganic fluorine added to drinking water -- to identify the presence of PFAS chemicals in the 231 products they purchased from retail stores in the United States and Canada.
"We found fluorine as a surrogate for PFAS was in all sorts of cosmetics. We didn't expect almost every cosmetic to light up like it did," said study author Graham Peaslee, a professor of physics, chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame.
The study found that more than three-quarters of waterproof mascara, nearly two-thirds of foundations and liquid lipsticks and more than half of eye and lip products had high fluorine concentrations.
In addition, samples from 29 of the products with the highest levels of fluorine were sent to an outside lab for an in-depth analysis that could identify 53 specific PFAS chemicals. The analysis found each of those 29 products contained at least four PFAS chemicals of concern.
However, the most disturbing finding, Peaslee said, is that 28 of the 29 products in which specific PFAS chemicals were found did not disclose those chemicals on the label.
"Some of it could be unintentional, due to manufacturing issues, but there are several products where the levels are so large, they had to be intentionally added for something like durability or water resistance, because that's what PFAS do very well," Peaslee said.
"Although I've often counseled my patients to avoid products with "perfluor" or "polyfluor" on the ingredient list, this new study concerns me because many of the products contaminated with these compounds did not even list these compounds on the ingredient list," said Dr. Whitney Bowe, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, who was not involved with the study.
"Moreover, the types of products that tested positive for high levels of fluorine -- and thus likely to contain PFAS -- are often used close to and around the eyes and lips," Bowe said.
That's a danger because PFAS chemicals may be more readily absorbed by the "thin, delicate mucous membranes" that are close to the eyes tear ducts, she said. In addition, women often "lick their lips and unknowingly ingest the ingredients in their lipstick, which is yet another route of exposure," Bowe said.
The lips are an area of the face vulnerable to PFAS chemical exposure.