More than half of popular cosmetics being sold in the US and Canada are likely to contain high levels of toxic chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a new study has warned.

Researchers from Notre Dame University tested more than 200 products including concealers, foundations, eye and eyebrow products and lip products, and found evidence of PFAS in around half (52 per cent) of them.

Worryingly, previous research has linked certain PFAS to a range of health issues, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypertension, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children.

Professor Graham Peaslee, who led the study, said: ‘PFAS is a persistent chemical – when it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates.

‘There’s also the additional risk of environmental contamination associated with the manufacture and disposal of these products, which could affect many more people.’

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Researchers from Notre Dame University tested more than 200 products including concealers, foundations, eye and eyebrow products and lip products, and found evidence of PFAS in around half of them (stock image)

Product category  Number of products tested  Percentage of products with high fluorine 
All lip products 60 55% 
Liquid lipstick 42  62% 
Foundations 43  63% 
Concealers 11  36% 
Other face products  30  40% 
All mascara 32  47% 
Waterproof mascara 11  82% 
Other eye products 43  58% 
All cosmetics tested 231  52% 

PFAS are a large, complex, and ever-expanding group of manufactured chemicals that are widely used to make various types of everyday products, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

They explained: ‘For example, they keep food from sticking to cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective. PFAS are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and military.’ 

In the study, the team tested more than 200 cosmetics for fluorine – an indicator of PFAS use in the product.

Their analysis revealed that 56 per cent of foundations and eye products, 48 per cent of lip products and 47 per cent of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine.

In particular, products advertised as ‘long-lasting’ and ‘wear-resistant’ were found to contain high levels, which is unsurprisingly, according to the team, given PFAS are often used for their water resistance and film-forming properties.

In particular, products advertised as ‘long-lasting’ and ‘wear-resistant’ were found to contain high levels, which is unsurprisingly, according to the team, given PFAS are often used for their water resistance and film-forming properties (stock image)

Worryingly, 29 products were tested further, and found to contain up to 13 PFAS – yet just one of these items listed PFAS as an ingredient.

Professor Peaslee said: ‘This is a red flag. Our measurements indicate widespread use of PFAS in these products – but it’s important to note that the full extent of use of fluorinated chemicals in cosmetics is hard to estimate due to lack of strict labeling requirements in both countries.’

PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t naturally degrade, meaning they can contaminate groundwater for decades.

Aside from cosmetics, previous research has identified the chemicals in non-stick cookware, treated fabrics and fast food wrappers.

‘These results are particularly concerning when you consider the risk of exposure to the consumer combined with the size and scale of a multibillion-dollar industry that provides these products to millions of consumers daily,’ said Professor Peaslee.

PFAS have been linked to a range of health issues, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypertension, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children.

Professor Peaslee added: ‘There’s the individual risk – these are products that are applied around the eyes and mouth with the potential for absorption through the skin or at the tear duct, as well as possible inhalation or ingestion.’

PFAS CHEMICALS CONTAMINATE WATER AND FOOD SUPPLIES

PFAS are manmade chemicals used as oil and water repellents and coatings for common products including cookware, carpets, and textiles.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals do not break down when they are released into the environment, and they continue to accumulate over time.

PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies near facilities where the chemicals are used.

PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities as well as military bases and firefighting training facilities where foam containing PFAS is used.

They also enter the food supply through food packaging materials and contaminated soil. 

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More than HALF of cosmetics likely to contain toxic chemicals that can cause CANCER, study warns

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