Guest post by Seth Rojello Fernández, Science and Policy Associate, Green Science Policy Institute
When shopping for the right shade of concealer, you might look at the back of the product and be met with hieroglyphics—a barrage of third-party certifications and safety labels surrounded by tiny print that doesn’t make sense. On the ingredients list, you might be met with vague words like ‘perfume’ or ‘acrylates.’ It is hard to know if inscrutable ingredients such as ‘Basic red 76,’ are safe, let alone if they belong to a notable class of harmful chemicals like per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS are famously persistent--they stick around so long that they’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals.” Some PFAS can build up in our bodies, and many are known to be toxic . What’s even worse is that some PFAS are used in cosmetics and other personal care products to make them durable, waterproof, and spreadable.
Fortunately, consumers looking to navigate the perplexing world of ingredients on cosmetics labels now have help. Clearya is a browser plug-in and a mobile app for iPhone and Android phones that works automatically while consumers are shopping online. When users browse products on Amazon, Sephora, and other online stores, the cosmetics’ ingredients are automatically analyzed. As a result, the user is then instantly notified of unsafe chemicals it detects, including PFAS. The goal is to make it easy for shoppers to choose products without chemicals of concern and make informed decisions.
Clearya is also a unique source of data. When it informs users of potentially unsafe ingredients, it adds the products containing them to an internal database. Green Science Policy Institute used Clearya’s database and automation platform to screen 50,000 personal product ingredient lists for a list of 9,000+ PFAS compiled by the U.S. EPA to identify cosmetics and personal care products that disclose PFAS on their ingredients lists. We found nearly 1,000 products from 120 brands that contain at least one PFAS (Figure 1). Overall, we identified 34 different PFAS in ingredient lists, with PTFE (aka Teflon) being the most common one.
Common cosmetics that contained PFAS included eyeliner, blush, face masks, moisturizers, lip care products, and more. In addition, many personal care products had more than one PFAS, such as a pore cleaning foam that contains 6 different PFAS! While most of the PFAS-containing products identified are meant to be used on the face, some can be applied all over the body, such as moisturizers and skin peels. Others are intended to be used together, such as foundation and concealer, or on sensitive areas such as eyes and lips, which are at higher risk for absorption or accidental ingestion.
When consumers use Clearya, they add to the growing database of healthier alternatives and they send a signal to the cosmetics industry that they value transparency and safer products without PFAS and other harmful chemicals. Other tools such as GSP’s PFAS-Free List and EWG’s Skin Deep are also helpful for finding PFAS-free options.
But PFAS used in cosmetics don’t always show up on labels. A recent study led by researchers at University of Notre Dame detected PFAS in many products that had no PFAS on their ingredients lists . The problem of unlabeled PFAS lurking in cosmetics is one that needs a policy fix. Fortunately, Sens. Collins (R-ME) and Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Dingell (D-MI) just introduced the bipartisan No PFAS in Cosmetics Act, which would prohibit the intentional use of PFAS in cosmetics. If you’re interested in safer products, contact your local legislators and ask them to support the bill.
We shouldn’t have to worry about forever chemicals in the products we buy to keep ourselves clean and looking our best. Using tools like Clearya and advocating for stronger regulation can help shift the market towards cosmetics that are safe for people and the environment.
Disclaimer: the content in this blog post is provided for general information, and does not substitute any medical advice by your own doctor or another health care professional. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.