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Cosmetics: Everlasting chemical substances are a part of the system

Sebastian Sauvé

Sebastian Sauvé

Photo credit: Amélie Philibert | University of Montreal

Supple, foamy, water-repellent: these properties are in great demand for beauty products. To achieve these qualities, however, manufacturers sometimes use fluoride-containing ingredients – including potentially hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

A research team from Carleton University and the University of Montreal has just released analytical results showing that certain cosmetics and personal care products labeled with fluorinated ingredients also contain PFAS and that these “forever chemicals” do not necessarily appear on the ingredients list.

“Although the most worrying PFAS are no longer used in many beauty products, in some cases they have been replaced by other classes of PFAS whose health and environmental impacts are still unknown,” emphasizes Sébastien Sauvé, Professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Montreal and co-author of the study.

A recent study found that cosmetics in the United States and Canada still contain these substances, but it was not known if these compounds were found in personal care products such as creams, body washes, shampoos, and shaving creams.

Carleton University Professor Amy Rand and her colleagues therefore wanted to test for the presence of PFAS in a variety of beauty products that listed fluoride ingredients in their formulations.

In 2020 and 2021, the team purchased 38 of these brands’ beauty products sold in Canadian stores and online that contained fluoroorganic compounds and tested them for older types of PFAS.

Present in the container but not always in the ingredients list

All samples had measurable levels of PFAS, but some of the compounds detected were not listed as ingredients in the products. Levels found in personal care products were generally lower than in cosmetics. The team found that two foundations are labeled with analogous terms water repellent, had high PFAS values. In one case, these compounds were even in the thousands of parts per million, exceeding Canada’s proposed PFAS regulations.

More than 200 types of PFAS in Canadians’ daily beauty ritual

Continuing their analysis, the team selected a subset of purchased items, analysis of which revealed more than 200 other PFAS, including new classes replacing older compounds.

An emerging class – monohydrogen-substituted perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids – was found in 30% of the products in the subgroup at levels ranging from less than one part per billion to hundreds. During this analysis, the research team also discovered a variety of structurally distinct PFAS that appeared unrelated to the PFAS originally added to the products, which could be the result of product aging or contamination with impurities in the raw materials.

These results underscore the diversity of PFAS and their known presence in some cosmetic and personal care products currently sold in Canada. However, more work is needed to understand where the unexpected PFAS are coming from.

About this study

The article “Targeted and Suspect Screening of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products”, by Keegan J. Harris, Gabriel Munoz, Vivian Woo, Sébastien Sauvé and Amy A. Rand, was published in the review on 09/30/2022 environmental science and technology the American Chemical Society. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02660.

The study was funded by Discovery Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the John R. Evans Leaders Fund from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Research Fund of the Quebec – Nature and technologies.

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