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Report: There are toxic chemicals in more than half of makeup brands

And almost none are listed on ingredient labels. The trick to identifying these products? Many are advertised as ‘long-lasting’ or ‘wear-resistant.’

Report: There are toxic chemicals in more than half of makeup brands
[Photo: VladimirFLoyd/iStock]

After decades of consumers asking for safer products, a new report shows that cosmetics still contain a stew of worrisome ingredients.

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How do we know this?

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame announced this week that they found substantial evidence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in more than half of popular cosmetic products, even though almost none were listed on ingredient labels. PFAS are commonly added to increase water resistance and durability.

Is anyone doing anything about it?

Yes! Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut responded swiftly, today proposing a bill that would ban the entire class of chemicals. The bill comes after watching Europe, where specific PFAS have long been banned and manufacturers have responded by simply substituting in other PFAS.

Remind me why PFAS are bad?

They’re associated with a raft of health ailments ranging from cancers to high cholesterol (you can read about them here). Short version: You don’t want them on your face. “Lipstick wearers may inadvertently eat several pounds of lipstick in their lifetimes,” says Graham Peaslee, senior author of the study and professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame. “But unlike food, chemicals in lipstick and other makeup and personal care products are almost entirely unregulated in the U.S. and Canada. As a result, millions of people are unknowingly wearing PFAS and other harmful chemicals on their faces and bodies daily.”

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Which brands of makeup should I avoid?

The study did not single out individual companies, but said the problem is endemic to the cosmetics industry.

Why didn’t someone figure this out earlier?

Conclusively pinpointing the widespread presence of unlisted ingredients is a project. This study was a five-year, three-country effort by 16 researchers at five universities and the Green Science Policy Institute. The researchers purchased 231 products at stores like Target, Sephora, and Ulta Beauty, then screened their ingredients.

So what types of products should I avoid?

Researchers found indications of PFAS in:

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  • 82% of waterproof mascaras
  • 63% of foundations and liquid lipsticks
  • 55%-58% of eye and lip cosmetics

If reading labels won’t keep me safe, what should I do?

Know that many of the products containing PFAS were advertised as “long-lasting” or “wear-resistant.”

Why are PFAs even used in makeup?

Good question. Arlene Blum, coauthor of the study and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, points out that PFAS are not necessary ingredients in makeup and should simply be banned. “It’s past time to get the entire class of PFAS out of cosmetics and keep these harmful chemicals out of our bodies,” she says. In the meantime, researchers call for stronger labeling regulations.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article contained language that made gender and appearance-based assumptions, which have been corrected.

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