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Toxic fluorinated chemicals found in cosmetics, study shows

CosmeticsToxic fluorinated, or PFAS, chemicals were found in high levels in nearly one-third of the cosmetics products tested, according to a study from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the PFAS concentrations detected “exceeded” limits that will soon be in place under the European Union’s chemical regulatory program.

PFAS chemicals are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity, and other health problems.

One or more PFAS substances were identified in 17 products, including hair spray and eyeliner, according to the study. The highest concentration of a single substance was found in a foundation, and the highest concentration of total PFAS was found in a concealer. In addition, for two of the products, both of their foundations, PFOA was found in concentrations above the forthcoming EU limit.

In March, Environmental Working Group scientists checked its Skin Deep database to see which ones contained Teflon and other PFAS chemicals.

Fluorinated chemicals were found in 66 products from 15 brands, some of them well known. Teflon was the most commonly found ingredient for this class of chemicals, but the EWG identified 13 different PFAS chemicals in nearly 200 products from 28 brands. In addition to makeup, PFAS chemicals were also found in sunscreen, shampoo, and shaving cream.

The main routes of PFAS exposure are through drinking water, food, and consumer products, said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. EWG researchers estimate more than 110 million Americans could have tap water contaminated with this family of chemicals, and the number of communities with PFAS-laced water continues to increase. PFAS chemicals are also widely used in fast food wrapping.

“There is absolutely no good reason to apply PFAS-laced cosmetics to your body,” said Andrews. “Some PFAS chemicals are highly toxic at very low doses, and no PFAS should be used in products like food wrappers and cosmetics, which are used by millions of Americans.”

Toxic chemicals such as the PFAS substances found in personal care products are legal for use as ingredients in the United States because of a weak and outdated law introduced in 1938 that has never been updated, he said.

“The public shouldn’t have to worry that they’re putting their own health at risk by doing something as routine and mundane as applying personal care products,” said EWG Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “The only way to adequately protect the public from toxic chemicals like PFAS being used as ingredients in cosmetics is for Congress to step up and change the law.”

Last week, I wrote that GenX introduced a decade ago as a “safer” alternative for the non-stick chemicals PFOA and PFOS, is nearly as toxic to people as what it replaced. Although PFOA and some related PFAS chemicals have been phased out, they still contaminate the drinking water of an estimated 15 million Americans. 


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Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

I've been trying to stick with more natural cosmetics and skincare. Great info. Good to know about the list.


Good to know. I usually don't wear any cosmetics but when I do I want to know that they're safe.


Hi Rebecca and Jennifer,

Yes, it's essential that consumers know everything they can about the chemicals in the cosmetics they wear every day.

The Environmental Working Group's database is a great source of information.


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