Published: 13 January 2023  (Updated: 13 January 2023)

In the News: PFAS and Cosmetics – the Facts

This week there has been some media coverage about a group of chemicals called “PFAS” (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) which raises questions about how safe they are for the environment and for our health.  Since PFAS are used in very limited cases within cosmetics, we understand you may be looking for further information about PFAS and whether they are in your cosmetics and personal care products.  CTPA has compiled key facts about PFAS as well as information about the actions that cosmetics companies are taking.  We hope you will find it helpful. 

A word on PFAS from Dr Emma Meredith, Director-General, CTPA: 
Only 1.5% of CTPA member companies reported use of PFAS ingredients when surveyed in 2020.   Cosmetic scientists have developed innovative alternatives that offer people the same product benefits they value. CTPA is working closely with Government as it shapes an action plan on PFAS for the UK. We welcome all new scientific studies into this large group of substances because these will contribute to a science-led and risk-based approach to the use of PFAS by all industries in the future.” 

This video is also available to watch on the CTPA Instagram and LinkedIn accounts.

What are PFAS? 

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is the term given to a huge family of substances, with very different properties.  There are estimated to be over 4,500 individual PFAS chemicals used for diverse purposes by many different industries.   As there are so many chemicals within the group, they all have very different environmental properties but these substances do not easily degrade in nature.  

Within this very large group of substances, just nine are used in cosmetics and personal care products. 

Why are PFAS used in cosmetics? 

Cosmetic scientists occasionally choose to use PFAS ingredients as they may be used to make cosmetics easier to apply or more water resistant.  For example, water and oil resistance can create long-lasting skincare and make-up products which are more comfortable to wear.  These properties can also give a smooth high-gloss finish and frizz protection to hair fibres. 

That said, it’s increasingly rare to find PFAS ingredients in cosmetics at all today because, in the vast majority of cases, cosmetic scientists have developed non-PFAS alternatives to provide these product benefits. In fact, a 2020 study by CTPA found that 1.5% of our member companies used any PFAS chemicals as cosmetic ingredients. That figure is likely to be even smaller today as more cosmetics companies have committed to using non-PFAS alternatives. 

Why are cosmetics companies moving away from PFAS? 

In recent years concerns have been raised about the use of PFAS across all types of products and industries because they can be what’s known as ‘environmentally persistent’. Something that all chemicals within the PFAS group have in common is that they all possess a carbon and a fluorine atom joined together as part of their structure.  This chemical linkage is very strong, which means that these chemicals tend to break down slowly in the environment.  Although PFAS were not commonly used in cosmetics, companies have been innovating to move to alternative ingredients which offer the same product performance.  

Are PFAS in cosmetics safe for my health? 

All cosmetic products and their ingredients must be safe for use. In the case of the nine PFAS used within cosmetics, we can be confident that these are subject to the same extremely strict UK and EU safety laws as is the case with all cosmetic ingredients. The use of PFAS ingredients in cosmetics will have been carefully reviewed and approved by an experienced and qualified safety assessor who will have confirmed that the PFAS, and any other ingredients, in the product do not pose any risk to human health. 

Collaboration on science 

The UK cosmetics industry has been working with the Government over the past three years on PFAS, transparently sharing information about the small use of PFAS in the cosmetics sector and companies’ experiences of moving to alternative ingredients, as the Government develops its action plan for PFAS in the UK.   

The cosmetics industry welcomes scientific investigations into PFAS chemicals because it is important that any new laws are based on the latest science and are risk-based and proportionate.  

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