What You Need to Know About the New Study on Toxic Chemicals in Makeup

Beauty products sometimes come with a long list of ingredients meant to help smooth, shine, and illuminate your face. The ugly truth? Some of those chemicals may be more dangerous than you'd expect.

That's the shocking finding from a study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Researchers analyzed 213 makeup products from around the U.S. and Canada and found PFAS, (a collection of toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in 52 percent of the products sampled—including ones that did not even list them on the label.

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These toxic substances are typically found in Teflon and stain-resistant coatings like Scotchgard. That's not great news, either (but at least you're not rubbing Schotchgard into your lips, eyelids, and cheeks!) And not only did the researchers find the chemicals to be "widespread" in the makeup products they tested, but they're also considered "forever" chemicals. This means that when you wash PFAS-tainted makeup off of your face, the chemical will taint the ground and water supply as well.

So should you kiss your lipstick goodbye? Here's what you need to know about the study and the safety of your makeup routine.

PFAS can be linked to a number of health issues.

First, the bad news: Studies have found that exposure to PFAS chemicals can lead to an array of health issues. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says that exposure can impair the immune system, and studies have linked it with increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and risk of developing high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnancy.

"PFAS are notorious for how toxic they are at small doses," says David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, an organization that researches and brings environmental issues in consumer products to light. "It's best to eliminate and reduce exposure as much as possible."

Waterproof or sweat-resistant products are more likely to contain them.

PFAS was found most commonly and at the highest levels in products that are touted for their staying power. Nearly two-thirds of foundations and long-lasting lipsticks contained PFAS, and 82 percent of waterproof mascara contained the chemicals.

Checking the labels may help—but not always.

Beware of products that list chemicals with names that include "perfluor" or "polyfluor" in their ingredient list to minimize your PFAS exposure. But keep in mind that many of the products contained PFAS, even though these chemicals didn't appear on their ingredient lists.

"We have to ensure these contaminants aren't coming in through packaging or manufacturing equipment," Andrews says. "The problem of PFAS contamination goes beyond what's on the labels."

There are ways you can help bring change.

Congress has introduced the No PFAS in Cosmetics Act, to try to ban the intentional use of these chemicals in makeup. The ban would go into effect 270 days after the bill is passed. Contacting your representatives could help drum up support.

And, of course, voting with your wallet—by purchasing only clean makeup and beauty products going forward—can make it easier to get cleaner products. "Consumers have the power," Burns says. "They're driving much of the change in consumer products."

You don't have to toss out all your products.

You may be tempted to clean out your makeup bag and start fresh (or go makeup-free altogether), but Carla Burns, a senior healthy living science analyst at Environmental Working Group, says you can take it slower. "Start by really looking at which products you use on a daily basis contain PFAS, so you can start to make small changes," Burns says.

As you run out of products, replace them with safer alternatives. (The Environmental Working Group maintains Skin Deep, a database that rates beauty products based on their safety.)

Also consider replacing products you use more often or over larger swaths of your skin to minimize PFAS exposure. "Changing whatever you use on the biggest portion of your body—like a lotion or foundation—will have a bigger impact than a specific lipstick that's only for special occasions," Burns says.

Your makeup should still have staying power.

Worried that your favorite foundation will be forever changed if PFAS chemicals are phased out? Andrews says that there are many safer ingredients that share the same smoothing and waterproofing properties. "I'm not entirely sure why they turn to these," he says. "Removing PFAS shouldn't create a significant change in performance—but it will eliminate these concerns."