Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a highly persistent and potentially toxic class of chemicals, are added to cosmetics to increase their durability and water resistance. To assess this potential health and environmental risk, 231 cosmetic products purchased in the U.S. and Canada were screened for total fluorine using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy. Of the eight categories tested, foundations, mascaras, and lip products had the highest proportion of products with high total fluorine ≥0.384 μg F/cm2. Twenty-nine products including 20 with high total fluorine concentrations were analyzed using targeted LC-MS/MS and GC-MS. PFAS concentrations ranged from 22-10,500 ng/g product weight, with an average and a median of 264 and 1050 ng/g product weights, respectively. Here, 6:2 and 8:2 fluorotelomer compounds, including alcohols, methacrylates, and phosphate esters, were most commonly detected. These compounds are precursors to PFCAs that are known to be harmful. The ingredient lists of most products tested did not disclose the presence of fluorinated compounds exposing a gap in U.S. and Canadian labeling laws. The manufacture, use, and disposal of cosmetics containing PFAS are all potential opportunities for health and ecosystem harm. Given their direct exposure routes into people, better regulation is needed to limit the widespread use of PFAS in cosmetics.




Whitehead, H. D., Venier, M., Wu, Y., Eastman, E., Urbanik, S., Diamond, M. L., … Peaslee, G. F. (2021). Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics. Environmental Science and Technology Letters, 8(7), 538–544. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00240

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