Melissa Juried Kriebel
A study involving a University of Montreal (UdeM) researcher has found that many cosmetic and personal care products available in Canada contain high levels of PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) that, in at least one case, far exceed Canadian regulations.
The research team from Carleton University and the UdeM also found that these substances may not be listed in the ingredients of some cosmetics and personal care products, even though they are labelled as containing fluoride components.
A study found that cosmetics sold in the U.S. and Canada still contained PFAS, but it was not known whether these compounds were also found in personal care products such as creams, body washes, shampoos and shaving creams.
“We see traces in just about everything we measure,” said UdeM chemistry professor Sébastien Sauvé. “But there were some products that contained a lot of it. That’s what really surprised us.”
PFAS are a group of chemicals whose properties can make products resistant to water, oil or temperature changes or reduce friction. They are found in a wide range of everyday items, from non-adhesive kitchen utensils and stain-resistant fabrics to flame-retardant foams.
In cosmetics and personal care products, they are used to make products smooth, foamy and water-repellent.
“In the properties of PFAS that are sought, there are often water repellent or water resistant aspects,” said Sauvé. “And clearly, that’s a problem in some of the products where you have very, very high concentrations.”
Carleton University professor Amy Rand and her colleagues purchased about 40 name-brand beauty products sold in Canadian stores and online that contained organofluorine compounds.
When they analyzed them for older types of PFAS, they found that all the products had measurable levels, even though some of the detected compounds were not listed in the ingredients. The levels measured in personal care products were generally lower than in cosmetics.
Two foundations labelled with terms similar to “hydrofuge” had high levels of PFAS. In one of them, these compounds were even in the thousands of parts per million, a level that exceeds the proposed Canadian PFAS regulation.
“The people who are going to use this are going to have a very high exposure to PFAS,” said Sauvé. “It’s an exposure that is very significant. And we can assume that some people will use these products routinely. And unlike other products, it’s the foundation that will cover most of the face. It’s a bad combination.”
PFAS have been associated with a variety of human health problems. The strongest scientific evidence concerns a possible risk of decreased immune response; high cholesterol levels in children and adults; growth problems in fetuses and toddlers; and kidney cancer in adults.
The manufacture, use and sale of the vast majority of PFAS have been banned in several countries, including Canada, for several years, but exceptions persist. The products used to replace them are also of concern to researchers.
“The alternatives have chemical structures that are very similar,” said Sauvé. “The toxicology and impacts are not all documented, but we can assume that since the molecule is very comparable, that the toxicity and health effects will also be comparable, even if we don’t have all the information.
The very nature of most PFAS prevents them from degrading over time, which means they can remain in the environment for decades.
And good luck to consumers wondering how they can protect themselves.
“Even I, as an expert, am not convinced how to do this,” said Sauvé. “The presence of these molecules is sneaky, and there is no great transparency. It’s very difficult to be reassured and to be certain.”
The findings of the study were published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 18, 2022.