Tests Find PFAS Chemicals in Cosmetics at ‘Elevated Levels’

EWG: Study Underscores Need for Cosmetics Reform Law in the U.S.

WASHINGTON – A new study from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found toxic fluorinated, or PFAS, chemicals at high levels in nearly one-third of the cosmetics products it tested.

Some of the PFAS concentrations detected “exceeded” limits that will soon be in place under the EU’s chemical regulatory program called “Regulation, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals,” or REACH, widely considered the most comprehensive and rigorous chemical law in the world.

PFAS chemicals are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems.

According to the study, one or more PFAS substances was identified in 17 products, including hair spray and eyeliner. The highest concentration of a single substance was found in a foundation, and the highest concentration of total PFAS was found in a concealer. In addition, for two of the products, both of them foundations, PFOA was found in concentrations above the forthcoming EU limit.

The Danish government researchers behind the study relied on EWG’s Skin Deep database, which provides ingredient lists and safety ratings for almost 75,000 cosmetics and personal care products, to identify products that likely contain PFAS compounds that are also available to Danish consumers.

In March 2018, EWG scientists scoured the database to see which ones contained Teflon and other PFAS chemicals.

Fluorinated chemicals were found in 66 products from 15 brands, including a number of household names. Teflon was the most commonly found ingredient for this class of chemicals, but in all, EWG identified 13 different PFAS chemicals in nearly 200 products from 28 brands. And it’s not just in makeup: PFAS chemicals were also found in sunscreen, shampoo and shaving cream.

The main routes of PFAS exposure are through drinking water, food and consumer products. EWG researchers estimate more than 110 million Americans could have tap water contaminated with this family of chemicals, and the number of communities with PFAS-laced water continues to mount. PFAS chemicals are also widely used in fast food wrapping.

“There is absolutely no good reason to apply PFAS-laced cosmetics to your body,” said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews, PhD. “Some PFAS chemicals are highly toxic at very low doses, and no PFAS should be used in products like food wrappers and cosmetics, which are used by millions of Americans.”

Toxic chemicals like the PFAS substances found in personal care products are legal for use as ingredients in the U.S. because of a weak and outdated law introduced in 1938 that has never been updated.

There is bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate that would, for the first time in 80 years, require the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review the most dangerous chemicals in cosmetics, require companies to tell FDA when contaminated products are in the marketplace, and give FDA the power to act to keep consumers safe from exposure to PFAS and other dangerous chemicals currently used in cosmetics.

 “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,” said EWG Senior VP for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “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.”


The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, 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.

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