The term “PFAS” stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It refers to a family of thousands of different chemicals that have a wide range of commercial and industrial uses. These substances are particularly good at repelling things — their dual hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties help them resist water, plus oils and stains. These qualities help make products waterproof, stain-proof or non-stick, in addition to their use in industrial lubricants.
PFAS have been detected in goods ranging from cosmetics to period underwear to anti-fogging cloths and sprays for glasses, among many others. A 2020 study identified them across 200 different use categories. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, existing evidence suggests that high levels of exposure to PFAS (among those that have been better studied) may lead to increased cholesterol levels, decreased vaccine responses in children, higher risk of preeclampsia in pregnant people, increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and other outcomes.
“This stuff is toxic at incredibly low levels and it’s persistent — it stays there for hundreds of years in the groundwater, thousands of years,” said Graham Peaslee, a Notre Dame professor and researcher who’s tested many products for PFAS in his lab. “And that means the next generations will be drinking it, and that’s not the kind of legacy we want to leave our kids.”
The PFAS-Free Beauty Act
The law signed by California Gov. Newsom on September 29, 2022 is the PFAS-Free Beauty Act – Assembly Bill 2771, which bans intentionally added PFAS from cosmetics sold in California. This law prohibits, beginning on January 1, 2025, a person or entity from manufacturing, selling, delivering, holding, or offering for sale in commerce any cosmetic product that contains intentionally added perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS, as defined.
“Toxic PFAS have no place in our consumer products,” said Assembly member Friedman (D-Glendale), who authored the new law, known as the PFAS-Free Beauty Act. “California will now ban these harmful chemicals from our cosmetics and personal care products.”
“Soon, Californians won’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,” she added.
“We applaud Gov. Newsom for signing this important bill into law despite industry pressure and ensuring that what we put on our bodies is free from toxic PFAS,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “This is a huge deal. California has the largest statewide market for cosmetics and the sixth biggest economy in the world.” Janet Nudelman, senior director of program and policy for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, thanked Gov. Newsom “for protecting the health of all Californians by signing this groundbreaking law.”
She added, “Consumers will soon be able to avoid these harmful chemicals in the products they slather on their bodies and their babies and that wash down the drain and further contaminate our water systems“.
Note that California was the first to ban 13 PFAS from personal care products, and the state also banned the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. Last year, Gov. Newsom signed into law the two bills banning the use of PFAS in juvenile products and in food packaging.
PFAS Presence in Cosmetic Products
PFAS is added to a variety of products including shaving cream, lotion, lipstick, and mascara. Exposure to the PFAS in these products can happen through ingestion (lipsticks), absorption (mascara through tear ducts; through skin for lotions and creams), and inhalation (spray on products, powders).
A 2021 study conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame found high amounts of PFAS in over half of the personal care and beauty products tested. For the majority of products that contained PFAS, the chemicals did not appear on the product label, as is required by federal law for intentionally added ingredients.
Also in 2021, Clearya (a free App that notifies you of unsafe ingredients), reviewed its database of 50,000 personal care and beauty products and found 1,000 cosmetic products, from 120 brands, that contained PFAS chemicals.