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Study: Many cosmetics contain unlisted, toxic 'forever chemicals'

Cosmetics contain high levels of potentially dangerous forever chemicals, according to a new analysis. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Cosmetics contain high levels of potentially dangerous "forever chemicals," according to a new analysis. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

June 15 (UPI) -- Commonly used cosmetics, including certain types of mascara and lipstick, contain high levels of potentially toxic chemicals that are not listed on labels, according to an analysis published Tuesday by the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

As a result, some makeup wearers may be absorbing and ingesting these chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, the researchers said.

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Several of the products tested, including multiple brands of waterproof mascara, liquid lipstick and foundations, had high fluorine levels -- a sign of the "probable presence of PFAS," which are also known as "forever chemicals."

Products with the highest fluorine levels that underwent further analysis were found to contain at least four PFAS of concern, with the majority not listed on the label.

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"Lipstick wearers may inadvertently eat several pounds of lipstick in their lifetimes," study co-author Graham Peaslee said in a press release.

"But unlike food, chemicals in lipstick and other makeup and personal care products are almost entirely unregulated," said Peaslee, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

In addition to potentially ingesting PFAS from lip products, cosmetic wearers may be absorbing the chemicals through their skin and tear ducts so that they enter the bloodstream, the researchers said.

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PFAS, which have also been found in drinking water, soil and in food packaging, can accumulate in the human body and persist in the environment -- hence their nickname "forever chemicals."

Some studies have linked them with fertility problems, birth defects, obesity, diabetes and cancer, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.

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The chemicals are often intentionally added to personal care products such as dental floss, lotion, cleanser, foundation, lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, water-proof mascara, nail polish and shaving cream to improve their durability, texture and water resistance.

The Environmental Working Group has been pushing federal lawmakers to more strongly regulate PFAS, including labeling some of these chemicals as carcinogens, designating them as hazardous to human health.

"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," Scott Faber, the group's senior vice president for government affairs, said in a press release.

"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," he said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., are expected to introduce legislation this week that would ban toxic PFAS in cosmetics.

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For the new study, Peaslee and his colleagues screened 231 cosmetic products purchased in the United States and Canada for fluorine, a sign of the presence of PFAS, using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy.

More than three-quarters of waterproof mascara, nearly two-thirds of foundations and liquid lipsticks and more than half of eye and lip products had high fluorine concentrations, they said.

All 29 products selected for targeted analysis contained detectable levels of at least four specific PFAS, including those known to break down into other forever chemicals that are highly toxic and environmentally harmful.

Nearly all of the 29 products in the separate analysis did not have any PFAS listed on their ingredient labels.

Many of the products containing PFAS were advertised as "wear-resistant" or "long-lasting." In many cases, PFAS listed on product labels often include "fluoro" in the ingredient name, the researchers said.

"PFAS are not necessary for makeup," study co-author Arlene Blum said in a press release.

"Given their large potential for harm, I believe they should not be used in any personal care products," said Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute in Berkeley, Calif.

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