‘Perpetually chemical substances’ or PFAS, present in cosmetics and private care merchandise, pose environmental and well being issues as a consequence of their persistence and accumulation in our bodies and ecosystems. Canadian research detected excessive PFAS ranges in these merchandise, correlating with elevated PFAS within the human physique. Strikes in direction of banning PFAS in cosmetics are underway within the European Union and California, urging Canada to observe go well with, alongside shopper consciousness and product labeling.
Cosmetics and private care merchandise improve the best way we feel and look. In the course of the pandemic, I began a self-care facial routine. It helped me address lockdown orders, whereas concurrently adjusting to my new identification as a mother. I utilized toner, serum, and cream to brighten mornings and calm down evenings.
However many of those merchandise include chemical substances referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often known as ‘ceaselessly chemical substances.’ They’re used as elements that may make merchandise waterproof, long-lasting and assist them unfold easily throughout pores and skin.
European information signifies there are about 170 PFAS elements to be used in cosmetics and private care merchandise. Annually, upwards of 80,000 kg of PFAS could also be launched after product use to wastewater and stable waste streams, a big supply of PFAS to the surroundings.
PFAS are persistent environmental contaminants. The properties that make them commercially helpful, notably their stability, additionally implies that there isn’t a environmental mechanism to degrade them, and they also accumulate. PFAS have been discovered throughout the globe, together with distant areas just like the Arctic.
PFAS additionally accumulate within the physique. The Canadian Well being Measures survey sampled blood from 1000’s of individuals and located a number of PFAS in all individuals.
Main sources of PFAS publicity to individuals are via eating regimen, from ingesting contaminated water or ingesting meals, equivalent to fish or meat. Agricultural fields can include PFAS from biosolids used as fertilizer, as wastewater therapy crops can’t take away them.
Due to this fact, PFAS are transported through biosolids to crops and animals. Equally, PFAS are added to non-public care merchandise, utilized, then washed off to enter wastewater therapy crops, contributing to a world environmental downside.
PFAS in private care merchandise
In our examine, we measured PFAS in cosmetics and private care merchandise bought in Canada. Merchandise included bronzers, concealers, foundations, shaving lotions, sunscreens and moisturizers.
PFAS had been extracted from every product and measured utilizing mass spectrometry instrumentation. These devices determine particular person PFAS current within the merchandise, at excessive milligram quantities or all the way down to a trillionth of a gram.
Significantly excessive ranges stemmed from merchandise containing the next elements: C6-16 perfluoroalkyl ethyl phosphates, perfluorooctyl triethoxysilane, and perfluorobutyl ethers. The Canadian authorities has prohibited some PFAS from merchandise, together with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and any chemical that degrades to produce PFOA.
New proposed Canadian PFAS regulations will set a threshold level at one microgram per gram in products. This means that PFAS at or below this level would be incidental and the prohibition would not apply. Yet we found that some products contained PFAS — including those prohibited from use — at levels a thousand times higher than the incidental level — pointing towards a lack of oversight when it comes to managing PFAS in the personal care product industry.
Higher PFAS levels
Epidemiological studies are showing that PFAS levels in the body are related to regular use of cosmetic and personal care products. One study in the United States noted higher blood levels of PFAS in women that typically wore foundation. A study from Korea linked application of cosmetics and personal care products to higher PFAS levels in breast milk.
Another study illustrated this trend more directly. PFOA was purposefully added to a sunscreen to determine whether blood levels in one person would increase after application. Within three weeks, the PFOA from the sunscreen application equaled about 10 percent of the total amount of PFOA in his body. This suggests that the daily application of a PFAS-containing sunscreen during summer months — and frequent application of other PFAS-containing cosmetics and personal care products — would result in high blood levels.
Unlike other chemicals, certain PFAS like PFOA are persistent. This means that human exposure to even low amounts of PFAS can accumulate over time. The half-life of PFOA in humans is about two years.
Even after this point, half the amount of PFOA remains and it takes even more years for it to be eliminated. However, continuous exposure from multiple sources, including the use of cosmetics and personal care products, guarantee that PFOA and similar PFAS, are never eliminated.
In Canada, the PFAS frequently measured in the environment with adverse health implications are prohibited from use. These include PFOA and PFOS, long-chain PFCAs, and any compound that degrades to produce them. This is a broader regulatory approach compared to other regions, including the U.S., which restricts individual PFAS.
But other regions are taking an even broader approach. The European Union’s proposed ban would eliminate thousands of PFAS. California is planning to effectively eliminate any PFAS ingredient used in cosmetics and apparel by 2025.
Canada should consider a similar approach, as a solution to protect people from exposure to these chemicals when applying cosmetics and personal care products, and eliminate their transfer to the environment after use.
Regulation and information
There is a solution: ban PFAS from cosmetics and personal care products. Some cosmetic retailers like Sephora do not include PFAS on their “clean” cosmetic lists so that consumers can avoid their use. But PFAS-containing cosmetics and personal care products are still readily available to Canadians.
PFAS are absent from the Canadian Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist, the list that contains ingredients prohibited from use in cosmetics and personal care products sold in Canada.
Environmental groups, managers, and industry should work together to stop using PFAS in cosmetics and personal care products, and instead use other ingredients that serve the same purpose.
At the very least, people should be aware of the PFAS in these products through clear labeling so that they can make informed decisions. Since completing this study, I have screened the ingredients in my products, only to find that a couple contained PFAS. I switched to other products.
Written by Amy Rand, Assistant Professor, Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology, Carleton University.
This article was first published in The Conversation.