June 15, 2021Skincare

Understanding your Skincare Ingredients: New Study on PFAS

Before we buy makeup and skincare products, we’re asking different questions now. What’s actually IN this product? Is it good for my skin? Is it healthy? Are these products ethically and sustainably made? We’re becoming much more savvy consumers and more thoughtful advocates for our own health.

But, as a consumer, it’s challenging to separate substantiated health concerns from claims like “chemical free” which are basically meaningless, given that water itself is a chemical. That’s why I’m such a strong advocate of sharing studies and information to help educate consumers to make informed decisions about controversial ingredients.

This brings us to a new study on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) just published this morning (link to full study below). PFAS are fluorinated pollutants – commonly found manmade chemicals used in a range of consumer products including water-resistant clothing, microwave popcorn bags, and stain-resistant furniture. They’ve been found in our water supply, in the soil, and now, in our beauty products. PFAS have been nicknamed “forever chemicals” for good reason: these chemicals persist in nature and in our tissues. These compounds are not only harmful to our planet, as they don’t break down in the environment, but they also accumulate in the human body and have been linked to a number of serious health concerns including: cancer, hormone disruption, obesity and liver toxicity. The CDC and EPA have recognized these compounds as toxic.

This new study showed high fluorine levels (which would suggest the probable presence of PFAS) in numerous waterproof mascaras, liquid lipsticks and foundations. Even more concerning was that these chemicals were not listed on the ingredient lists. You can read more about the study and its findings here. I am absolutely not advocating an alarmist approach here. I’m sharing information to help you stay informed so that you can make decisions based on your personal comfort level.

Skincare and Beauty Products:

PFAS are not necessary in makeup. I personally don’t choose to use skincare and beauty products with “perfluor” or “polyfluor” on the ingredient list because that’s my comfort level. Many people don’t realize that PFAs are used in cosmetic products because of their water-repellent or water-resistant properties. These perfluorinated compounds (PFASs or PFCs) are typically found in products meant to stay put for long periods of time. What makes them last longer on your eyelashes or lips are the same chemical properties that make them accumulate in our bodies and persist in our environment.
This new study concerns me because many of the contaminated products did not even list these compounds (PFAs or PFCs) on the ingredient list. Consequently, even a very savvy consumer would have no way of knowing if the product she is using contains PFASs or PFCs when buying and using the products tested.

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, such as mascaras and lipsticks. Ingredients are much more readily absorbed in those areas because of the thin, delicate mucous membranes and proximity to tear ducts. Furthermore, women often lick their lips and unknowingly ingest the ingredients in their lipstick, which is yet another route of exposure. Although it’s desirable to have mascara or lipstick or foundation that lasts a little longer, I believe consumers need to know which ingredients are contributing to that staying power. I personally love a good waterproof mascara, but not at the expense of my health.

Again, I’m not suggesting an alarmist approach here. I think this was eye opening and I’m so glad this information was brought to light. Are there PFAs in our environment? Yes. Are we exposed to them in water and food? Yes. Do we need to throw out all of our skincare and makeup? Of course not. This information helps guide us to press for transparency in ingredients and safety when it comes to the products we choose for our healthiest lifestyle. Some organizations are actively lobbying for more government oversight of cosmetics and consumer products, encouraging legislation that protects consumers and the environment.

So what can you do TODAY if you want to try to minimize your exposure?

I encourage my patients to shop brands that are transparent about their supply chain, and take efforts to ensure that ingredients and packaging are being sourced from safe, reliable sources in a sustainable and ethical way.

Some retailers also reassure their customers that any brands they carry do not contain PFAS, such as Credo.

Here are some other resources I offer my patients who are interested in learning more about PFAS:

Silent Spring Institute 

URI STEEP Superfund Research Program

PFAS EXchange, part of PFAS-REACH

STUDY: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00240

Dr. Whitney