Fluorinated compounds in North American cosmetics

The peer-reviewed study by Whitehead et al. published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters reports on the first measurements of fluorinated chemicals used in U.S and Canadian cosmetics.  Fluorinated chemicals include the class of “forever” chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) which are very persistent in the environment, can bioaccumulate in humans, and several have demonstrated toxicity in human and animal studies. Previous studies on the measurement of PFAS in cosmetics have confirmed the presence of PFAS in cosmetics and personal care products in European and Asian markets. Until now, no studies have been able to measure the extent of PFAS use in cosmetics sold in North America. To examine this issue, cosmetic products were collected in both the U.S. and Canada between 2016-2020.

Cosmetics mounted onto target frames for total fluorine analysis.

Over 230 samples of cosmetics in 8 different categories (such as foundations, mascaras, and lip products) were screened for total fluorine. These products were selected from major brand names in both the U.S. and Canada that can be purchased at key cosmetic and personal care product retailers. It was observed that for several categories (e.g. waterproof mascara, liquid lip products) higher levels of total fluorine were measured, implying that PFAS has been used to impart water-resistant or long-lasting characteristics to the product. While some of these chemicals may be present in trace quantities as impurities in the manufacturing process, the ones found at high concentrations are likely to have been used to impart performance characteristics to the product. To validate these measurements a subset of 29 samples, 20 from the high-fluorine category and 9 from the low and moderate-fluorine categories, were further studied to identify specific PFAS chemicals within them.  Between 4 and 13 specific PFAS were identified in each of the 29 samples, some at high concentrations. 

Remarkably, only 1 of the 29 products tested listed a fluorochemical ingredient on its product ingredient label. Without disclosed fluorochemical ingredients on the label, this study suggests that North American consumers are unknowingly being exposed to PFAS in their cosmetics.