Potentially Harmful Chemicals in Lipstick & Mascara Could Soon Be Regulated by Congress

Proposed legislation was prompted by a study that found high levels of a marker for PFAS in over half of the cosmetics products tested

Potentially Harmful Chemicals in Lipstick & Mascara Could Soon Be Regulated by Congress
Photo:S. Alemdar / Stringer (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Senate and House of Representatives introduced a bill that if passed, would ban the man-made and reportedly toxic chemicals called PFAS from being included in makeup products. This legislation comes after a new study looking at the U.S. and Canada found high levels of a chemical marker for PFAS in 52 percent of the 231 makeup products tested. Some of the cosmetic products with the highest levels of PFAS were foundations, waterproof mascaras, and long-lasting lipsticks.

The new study used the chemical fluorine as a marker to identify the presence of PFAS in the 231 cosmetic products that were tested, and samples from the 29 products with the highest levels of fluorine were sent to an outside lab for further analysis. In 28 of the 29 products where specific PFAS chemicals were found, those chemicals were not disclosed on the item’s label. “Some of it could be unintentional, due to manufacturing issues, but there are several products where the levels are so large, they had to be intentionally added for something like durability or water resistance, because that’s what PFAS do very well,” explained Graham Peaslee, a professor of physics, chemistry, and biochemistry, and an author on the study in question.

PFAS chemicals are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms and can be found in a variety of products, including non-stick cookware, cell phones, and commercial aircraft. Part of the appeal of PFAS chemicals is that they don’t degrade in the environment, which is why they’re also used to make carpeting, furniture, and grease/water-resistant food packaging. “The most common PFAS is polytetrafluoroethylene, the ingredient most commonly known as Teflon, or the coating on pans,” David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, told CNN. “But all in all, we have identified 13 different PFAS chemicals in more than 600 products from 80 brands.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins co-introduced the bill in the Senate, and in a statement released on Tuesday, she wrote: “Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals, which includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX. These chemicals can bioaccumulate in bodies over time and have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, decreased fertility, and hormone disruption.”

It’s not news that PFAS chemicals are added to cosmetics—the FDA says they are often added to skincare and makeup products in order to make skin appear shiny or to “affect product consistency and texture.” The FDA also says that future studies are necessary to figure out how much PFAS can be absorbed through the skin. However, Dr. Whitney Bowe, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology, says it’s possible that PFAS chemicals may be more readily absorbed by the “thin, delicate mucous membranes” close to the tear ducts, or through licking one’s lips—making it even more concerning that the types of cosmetic products that most often tested positive for the markers suggesting they contain PFAS are used around the eyes and lips.

The proposed legislation would prompt the FDA to issue a rule banning the intentional addition of PFAS into cosmetic products within 270 days of its enactment.

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