SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Today, a bill to ban intentionally added toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS from cosmetics sold in California passed the state Assembly.
“Exposure to PFAS compounds, even in very low doses, has been linked to serious health problems,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who introduced Assembly Bill 2771. “I’ve authored this bill because Californians shouldn’t have to worry that they’re putting their health, or the health of their loved ones, at risk by doing something as routine as applying lotion or wearing makeup.
“Prohibiting the sale of personal care products that contain these forever chemicals is a critical step toward reducing unnecessary exposure,” Friedman added.
A.B. 2771 is co-sponsored by the Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and CALPIRG.
“It’s long past time to prohibit PFAS from being added to products Californians apply to their hair and skin every day,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. Two years ago, California led the nation when it banned 13 PFAS from use in personal care products.
“These chemicals are ubiquitous. Concerns are mounting throughout the world about the toxicity and environmental persistence of PFAS chemicals. To tackle PFAS pollution of our bodies and the environment, all nonessential uses of PFAS must be restricted immediately,” Little added.
PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and they build up in our blood and organs. They are among the most persistent toxic compounds in existence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fluorinated chemicals contaminate the bodies of nearly all Americans, but cosmetics face little federal oversight.
Very low doses of PFAS in drinking water have been linked to increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm and liver and thyroid disease. PFAS exposure is also linked to interference with vaccines and is associated with an elevated risk of breast cancer, increased cholesterol and other serious health concerns.
Despite their well-documented risks, PFAS chemicals are added to many consumer products, including beauty and personal care products.
Why are PFAS in cosmetics?
In 2018, EWG scientists scoured the Skin Deep® database, which provides ingredient lists and safety ratings for more than 85,000 cosmetics and personal care products, to see which contained PFAS. Researchers identified 13 types of PFAS in more than 300 products among more than 50 brands. PTFE – a type of PFAS better known as Teflon – was the most commonly found ingredient, used in more than 200 different products.
“PFAS chemicals that are linked to breast cancer, pollute our drinking water and persist in the environment forever are too big a price to pay for beauty,” said Janet Nudelman, director of Breast Cancer Prevention Partner’s Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Women living with breast cancer shouldn’t have to wonder or worry if their daily use of a favorite lipstick or lotion is increasing their risk of a recurrence of this devastating disease.”
Forever chemicals are used in products like dental floss, lotions, cleansers, shaving cream, lipstick, eyeliner and mascara to improve durability and texture, and to condition or smooth skin or make it appear shiny. Cosmetics with the highest levels of PFAS are often marketed as waterproof, wear-resistant or long-lasting.
Last year, University of Notre Dame researchers tested 231 cosmetics for PFAS. More than half the products tested contained PFAS, but most did not list any on their ingredient labels. The study found more than three-quarters of waterproof mascaras, nearly two-thirds of foundations and liquid lipsticks, and more than half of eye and lip products had high fluorine concentrations, indicating the likely presence of PFAS.
Putting health at risk
Absorption of PFAS through skin is likely not a major route of exposure, but applying products containing these compounds around the eyes and lips can increase the absorption risk.
Some PFAS have been linked to a higher risk of harm to the immune system, such as reduced vaccine efficacy; harm to development and the reproductive system, such as reduced birth weight and impacts on fertility; increased risk of certain cancers; and effects on metabolism, such as changes in cholesterol and weight gain.
“Products we use on our bodies every day shouldn’t contain toxic ingredients that put our health at risk,” said Jenn Engstrom, state director of CALPIRG. “Yet every morning, many Californians are covering ourselves with toxic PFAS chemicals because they’re currently permitted – and in – our cosmetics and personal care products. We applaud the California State Assembly for advancing this important legislation to make sure what we put on our bodies is toxic-free.”
Regulation of forever chemicals
The U.S. cosmetics industry is notoriously underregulated. For more than 80 years, Congress has neglected to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over cosmetics, limiting the agency’s ability to ensure the safety of personal care products.
But some federal lawmakers are hoping to spur FDA action. In 2021, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the House and Senate versions of the No PFAS in Cosmetics Act. They would require the FDA to issue a proposed rule within 270 days of enactment to ban the intentional use of PFAS as an ingredient in cosmetics, with a final rule due 90 days later.
But states are not waiting for Congress or the FDA to act.
In July 2021, Maine also adopted a law that will ban the unnecessary use of PFAS in all products, including cosmetics. Although the law takes a phased approach over the next few years, it will ban the sale of new products that contain intentionally added PFAS starting January 1, 2030, unless a company can prove they are essential.
In May 2022, the Colorado legislature passed a bill to ban “intentionally added” PFAS in a wide range of consumer products, including cosmetics. The bill awaits Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’s signature. That law would go into effect on January 1, 2024.
Six other states have introduced bills to ban PFAS in personal care products, and Friedman's bill would apply this prohibition in California, which is the largest cosmetics statewide market and the sixth biggest economy in the world.
Given the serious impact of PFAS on public health and the environment, these chemicals should be banned from the beauty and personal care products for sale in California. Eliminating PFAS from personal care products will also reduce the amount of these compounds washed down drains or tossed into landfills.
California lawmakers know these chemicals pose a serious threat to public health and have banned the use of PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and children’s products.
In the meantime, consumers who want to limit their PFAS exposure should avoid most products marketed as waterproof, grease-resistant or long-lasting. They also should look for a “PFAS free” label on products. People also can use EWG’s Skin Deep database and Healthy Living app to find, and avoid, products that may contain PFAS.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. https://www.ewg.org
Breast Cancer Prevention Partners is the leading national science-based, policy and advocacy organization focused on preventing breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation. Learn more at www.bcpp.org
CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is a statewide nonprofit organization that works to protect public health and consumers. Learn more at https://calpirg.org/