PFAS in Cosmetics – Shielding Your Beauty Routine from « Forever Chemicals »

PFAS – Forever Chemicals

In this society concerned by low quality items, that sometimes don’t even last a year, we  usually appreciate « things that last forever »… except when it comes to chemicals, probably…In this article, we will be tackling the question of a specific category of substances, PFAS, sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because of their persistence in the environment.

PFAS cosmetics Europe : France lawmakers vote to ban ‘forever chemicals’

In April 2024 French MPs approved the first reading of a bill aimed at restricting the manufacture and sale of non-essential products (except in cooking utensils) containing PFAS or « forever chemicals », marking a significant step in environmental health protection.

PFAS -Those widespread « Forever Chemicals »

PFAS (per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances) is a chemical family consisting of at least 5,000 individual substances. As a result of their widespread use and persistence, PFAS are being found to be present in many different environments.

« Forever Chemicals »  PFAS in cosmetics

A study published in 2021 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters also linked the general problematic of PFAS to the cosmetic sector. The researchers found high fluorine levels—indicating the probable presence of PFAS—in most waterproof mascara, liquid lipsticks, and foundations tested :The problem with cosmetic products is that on the one hand some products intentionally include ingredients that qualify as PFAS (see the list of INCIs below) and on the other hand PFAS are also sometimes found in analyses of conventional cosmetic products, without being clearly displayed on the products, according to a Green Science Policy Institute study on PFAS dating from June 2021

« Many cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada likely contain high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a potentially toxic class of chemicals linked to a number of serious health conditions, according to new research from the University of Notre Dame. Scientists tested more than 200 cosmetics including concealers, foundations, eye and eyebrow products and various lip products. According to the study, 56 percent of foundations and eye products, 48 percent of lip products and 47 percent of mascaras tested were found to contain high levels of fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS use in the product. The study was recently published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology Letters. » *

Some cosmetic brands intentionally add PFAS to make cosmetics last longer and spread easily. PFAS can also sometimes be found cosmetics through cross-contamination, such as machinery used in manufacturing or plastic packaging that contains PFAS.

A woman asking herself about the link between Cosmetics & PFAS ?
Cosmetics & PFAS ?

Other Studies also reveal the presence of PFAS in different everyday products

In addition to that, another study by Katherine E. Boronow and her team, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology in 2019, for instance reveals the presence of « perfluoroalkyl » and « polyfluoroalkyl » substances in certain dental products products. In dental floss, in particular, although it is not the only source of PFAS, as the study makes clear.

Environmental Concerns

First of all, keep in mind that PFASs, also called « Forever Chemicals », are among the synthetic substances that are are considered (among other things) extremely problematic from an environmental point of view. Some PFAS have recently made the headlines, as they can now even be traced in rainwater, making it ‘unfit for consumption’, according to recents studies*.

Let’s get back to the basics – What exactly are PFAS

PFASs, poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, are chemical substances consisting of about 4,000 to 6,000 different components. PFASs are persistent, rapidly spreading and not, or only very partially, biodegradable. They can be found in textiles, food packaging, cosmetics, pesticides, kitchen utensils, varnishes and many other everyday products.

Which cosmetic products can contain PFAS ?

What are PFAS used for in cosmetics?

Basically,  PFAS are used in cosmetics and beauty products,  to condition and smooth the skin, making it appear shiny, or to affect product consistency and texture. In other products such as dental floss, it is the waterproofing properties that comes into play.

 

A woman learning more about PFAS, Forever Chemicals
What exactly are PFAS ?

All things considered, what are the health risks?

Because Perfluoroalkyl compounds are not destroyed in the human body and bioaccumulate, they increasing health risks. Several PFASs are strongly suspected of being toxic, with health risks to humans, animals and the environment. These include effects on hormone balance (so-called endocrine disruptors), the immune system, reproduction and unborn child development. The exact properties differ for each specific PFAS. These substances can accumulate in the human body, in animals and in plants. PFASs can enter the human body through food, drinking water, inhalation or the skin.

 

A man who has questions about how Toxic are PFAS and what are the healths problems with Forever Chemicals ?
PFAS and health ?

Identified as problematic by the french authorities already in 2019

Previously, in September 2019, Santé publique France published a study on « the impregnation of the French population by perfluorinated compounds« , recalling how, since the 1950s, these man-made substances have been used in « numerous industrial applications and in everyday consumer products », including cosmetics, as recalled in this article (in french)

A woman wanting to learn more about toxic beauty ingredients and PFAS free skincare
PFAS and legislation – tell me more

 

And what about the laws in Europe?

The production and use of various PFAS compounds is clearly restricted by European directives. In the coming years, various applications containing PFAS will be further restricted. BUT it can actually take decades between the identification of the problem, partial restrictions phase and the final ban of components or classes of components.For instance, in some countries, retailers take actions, -like in Denmark- before the official legal restrictions, – which often take years to implement. In Denmark, for example, the second largest food retailer in Denmark, the Coop Group, the world’s largest retail group, immediately stopped all purchases of cosmetics and personal care products containing PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl) compounds.

« The ban applies to the group’s own brands as well as to international brands. Sales of products still containing PFAS will be phased out by 1 September 2019 at the latest. Coop also calls on the Danish Minister for the Environment and Food to propose a law against PFAS in cosmetic products. »

What are the different INCI names of the PFAS components used in cosmetics?

Spotting Hidden Peas 

Therefore, to minimize your contact with PFAS, it’s necessary to educate yourself about the common cosmetic ingredients that may be contaminated. Look out for ingredients such as Teflon, PTFE, or any vague mention of « fluorinated » compounds on product labels. Identifying these hidden peas will empower you to make informed buying decisions and ensure the products you choose are free from harmful chemicals.

A woman looks concerned about PFas pollution, makeup in pfas. And is looking for the pfas cosmetics list
PFAS in beauty products ?

Which cosmetic ingredients are identified as PFAS ? 

INCI

  • PFTE (Teflon)
  • Perfluorononyl dimethicone
  • Perfluorononyl triethosyxilane
  • Ethyl perfluorobutyl ether
  • Perfluorotetralin,
  • Polyurethane-27 / Polyurethane ( verifier microplastique ?)
  • Polyperfluoroethoxymethoxy Peg-2 Phosphate
  • Octafluoropentyl Methacrylate
  • Pentafluoropropane
  • Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether
  • Perfluorononylethyl Carboxydecyl Peg-10 Dimethicone
  • Perfluorodecalin
  • Polyperfluoroethoxymethoxy Difluoroethyl Peg Phosphate
  • Perfluorodimethylcyclohexane
  • Perfluoroperhydrophenanthrene
  • PEG-10 dimethicone
  • C9-15 fluoroalcohol phosphate
  • Perfluorohexane

 

 

 

PFAS - Forever Chemicals in cosmetics explained in a graphic
PFAS in cosmetics

 

PFAS in cosmetics, the Green Science Policy Institute  study-2021

The problem with cosmetics is twofold. Some conventional products can contain them as added ingredients in the formulation (see the INCI list above) and PFASs are also sometimes found in analyses of conventional cosmetics, without being clearly displayed on the products, according to a Green Science Policy Institute study on PFASs dating from June 2021.

Hidden PFASs

In its study, the Green Science Policy Institute, in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame (Canada), the University of Toronto, Indiana University and ETH Zurich, tested 231 make-up products from leading brands in the USA and Canada. According to the study, the vast majority of cosmetics tested contained concealed PFAS.

➡️ 29 products with the highest fluoride levels, (an indicator of the presence of PFAS), were further analyzed and confirmed to contain at least four PFAS of concern. These were PFASs that break down into other PFASs known to be highly toxic and harmful to the environment.

➡️ Ingredients such as Methicone, Acrylate and Silicone polymers also exist in versions that already contain PFASs at their base. The researchers therefore assume that some of the PFAS detected already came from these ingredients. The concentrations of these ingredients corresponded to the highest fluorine concentrations measured in the analysis, they added.

What kind of make-up products contain PFAS?

Overall, 52% of the products tested by the Green Science Policy Institute contained what the researchers consider to be “higher” levels of fluoride, particularly present in products marketed as “waterproof” or “long-lasting”.

PFAS could be traced in :

  • 82% of waterproof mascaras.
  • 58% of other eye make-up products, such as eyeshadows, eyeliners and eye creams.
  • 63% of foundations
  • 62% of lipsticks.
  • Of the 17 Canadian products tested, only one displayed PFAS on the ingredient label.

However, the problem of PFAS in consumer goods goes of course far beyond the cosmetics sector, but the industry is part of the problem and must take its share of responsibility to ban these components which are absolutely not indispensable. The natural and organic cosmetics sector is proof of this, as these components are simply not part of the « authorised » components defined by the various labels for natural and organic cosmetics.

 

More ressources

It would also seem that the subject of PFAS as a whole is more widely discussed in English-speaking or Nordic countries, for example with the following resources.

➡️ Dark Waters: a film to warn about perfluorinated chemical pollution

➡️ EWG in the US questioning the presence of Teflon in our cosmetics

➡️  In Denmark, an official 2018 study by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency on the issue of PFAS in cosmetics

A man concerned about the PFAS ban France
PFAS ban

Get informed & take action

It is therefore also up to us to raise this issue as informed consumers and to ask brands – also from the cosmetics sector – to review their formulations as soon as possible to ban PFAS from their products. Official bans through national or international legislation will take far too long to counteract this global problematic.

******

Find other similar articles on cosmetic ingredients the Website 

Conclusion

As shown above : in a world where cosmetic products can sometimes contain harmful forever pollutants like PFAS, it’s critical to be vigilant about the ingredients we expose ourselves to. By understanding the dangers of PFAS and educating ourselves about common cosmetic ingredients, we can avoid these undesirable « PFAS » in our beauty routine. Whether it’s choosing clean  or opting for natural, organic and certified alternatives (by serious labels), taking proactive steps toward a healthier beauty regimen is essential.

Endocrine disruptors in cosmetics – how can we avoid them?

Endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and beauty products : how to avoid them?

Some basic explanations about the endocrine system:

The endocrine system is the system in the human body that includes all the organs and tissues secreting hormones. Besides other factors, our health depends on the proper functioning of this endocrine system. The system is made up of several organs called hormonal glands (composed of endocrine cells), which produce hormones and then release them into the bloodstream. These hormones act as « chemical messengers », circulating throughout the body.

The hormonal system

Hormones have a variety of essential functions; they stimulate growth and development, regulate impulses and moods, control major physiological basic functions (e.g. body temperature, blood sugar levels, blood pressure).  This also means that the balance of our organism or our health as a whole can be strongly impacted if this system is disturbed or if anything interferes with it.

How endocrine disruptors work, Video Hormone Health Network

What exactly are endocrine disruptors and how can we avoid them?

Endocrine disruptors are sometimes of natural origin (hormones and phyto-oestrogens), and often artificial, i.e. product ingredients from the chemical industry or components of numerous everyday objects (e.g. cosmetics, pesticides, detergents, plastics, furnishing, medicine, textiles, etc.).

What is their impact on health?

Endocrine disruptors can impact health on several levels, for example by:

  1. Modifying the natural production of our intrinsic hormones (oestrogen, testosterone) by interfering with their synthesis, transport or breakdown mechanisms
  2. Mimicking the action of these hormones by substitution (also sometimes referred to as « hormone-like » in the biological processes they control)
  3. Blocking or preventing the action of these hormones, by attaching themselves to the receptors with which they usually interact
A woman is asking what are endocrine disruptors, or endocrine disruptors chemicals, what is endocrine disruption ?
endocrine disruption -what does that mean ?

Hormonal interferences

And all these hormonal interferences can sooner or later be linked to important health problems such as:

  • infertility problems
  • hormone-dependent cancers
  • genital malformation at birth**
  • other diseases such as diabetes/obesity, etc.
    **Ref: the conclusion of Professor Sultan’s work (in French):

Another concern: endocrine disruptors are problematic and active even at low doses, according to various studies*:

The question of  » low dose » exposure

Usually, below a certain level of exposure, the body’s defence mechanisms prevent the appearance of effects on health. This is known as the threshold effect. For certain dangerous substances such as carcinogenic molecules, it has been observed that there is sometimes no threshold effect, at least on a population scale, and therefore effects are possible even at low doses. Endocrine disruptors are suspected of acting in the same way.

A woman wants to know more about endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and her beauty products.
I have some questions about endocrine disruptors

Which products can contain endocrine disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors examples

Endocrine disruptors can be found in a large number of everyday products (furnishing, textiles, cosmetics, toys, clothing, and also food), such as:

  • phthalates or bisphenol A used in plastics
  • pesticides in food*
  • cosmetic ingredients (some parabens, triclosan, UV filters, alkylphenols, BHT etc.)
  • organochlorine compounds (DDT, chlordecone, etc.) used in plant protection products
  • flame retardants (found, for example, in new furniture)
    * In France, the non-profit organisation “Générations Futures” is doing a remarkable job of collective mobilisation against pesticides and deserves our support:
A man has questions about endocrine disruptors in beauty products, is there a endocrine disruptors product list, more than a dirty dozen ?
I have even more questions…about endocrine disruptors

Are endocrine disruptors problematic for everyone?

Endocrine disruptors are a problem for EVERYONE, but pregnant women, foetuses, children and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk. It is important to note, for example, that a pregnant woman’s exposure to endocrine disruptors can have repercussions on her child’s health, even if the effects do not appear until several years after birth. In 2016, a study by Santé Publique France (the French public health agency) confirmed the presence of traces of endocrine disruptors in almost all the pregnant women tested during a large-scale survey, the first of this scale in France to have been carried out on these substances.

« The study, published on Wednesday 7 December 2016 by Santé Publique France, measured the presence of various organic pollutants in the urine of more than 4,000 French women who gave birth in 2011. The result: « Bisphenol A, phthalates, pyrethroids (a family of insecticides), dioxins, furans, PCBs, flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds » were detected « in almost all pregnant women », explains the French public health agency, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Health for this survey. For example, bisphenol A was present in more than 70% of the participants, phthalates in 99.6% of them, dioxins, furans and PCBs were detected in… 100% of cases!

As far as cosmetic products are concerned, there are unfortunately still too many substances of concern (endocrine disruptors and other controversial substances), even in products for pregnant women, children or toddlers, as demonstrated by the various product tests on the site.

A woman asks herself why not just ban toxic cosmetic ingredients?
This seems a bit ridiculous…

After all … why not simply ban endocrine disruptors, in that case?

On the one hand, there is no common European regulatory definition, even if many efforts have been put in place since 2017.

And above all, between the first scientific warnings and the bans on substances (be they cosmetic ingredients or pesticides, for that matter) several years can go by. 

This is partly because the administrative processes are cumbersome and complex, but also because the industry concerned will of course oppose them with all means (lobbying). The regulation of chemical substances is governed by the REACH Regulations, which applies without transposition in all EU Member States. It states that substances with endocrine disrupting properties and « presenting a level of concern equivalent to CMR substances (carcinogenic – mutagenic – toxic for reproduction) » may be identified as substances of very high concern, and thus be included on the list of substances subject to authorisation.

Legislation in Europe

At the European level, the official list available on the ECHA website is regularly updated and concerns substances potentially considered as endocrine disruptors under evaluation or already evaluated:

Regulatory framework: more information on the subject can also be found on the INRS website (in french):

To date, the absence of specific regulations applicable to endocrine disruptors is explained by the lack of a common and official regulatory definition for all European legislation. Indeed, a European regulatory definition was adopted in September 2017, for endocrine disruptors used as biocidal active ingredients (Delegated Regulation No 2017/2100 of 4th September 2017) and then in April 2018 for those used as pesticides (Commission Regulation 2018/605 of 19th April 2018). However, to date, this definition has not yet been included in the framework of the other European regulations on chemicals (REACH and CLP)

EDLIST created in 2020 : a European website listing endocrine disruptors

Five European countries initiated this project, intended to establish a list of proven or suspected disruptive substances.

Launched on 2 June 2020, the edlists.org website lists the substances recognised as endocrine disruptors in the European regulation on chemical products. This site is the result of cooperation between Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and France. In France, the French Health Security Agency (Anses) undertook to publish a list of all endocrine disruptors by 2021. This list classifies the molecules into three categories: « suspected », « presumed » and « proven »,

 

A woman asking some questions about endocrine disruptors and hormonal disruption in beauty products.
What exactly are endocrine disruptors ?

What about CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction) substances ?

In some cases, « banned » substances (which includes certain endocrine disruptors) can be exempted and therefore remain in circulation, as also stated by the FEBEA*, the french cosmetics industry federation. »According to the European Cosmetics Regulation (No. 1223/2009), CMR substances are banned in cosmetics « because of their hazardous properties ». However, since a hazardous property of a substance does not necessarily entail a risk, there are exceptional cases where these ingredients can be used. For example, a substance classified in category 2 can be used in cosmetic products if it has been assessed by the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) and found safe for use in cosmetic products. Similarly, CMR substances of category 1A or 1B may be used in cosmetic products if they comply with food safety requirements, if there are no suitable alternative substances and if the SCCS has considered their use for a particular purpose as safe. »

What about essential oils, are they part of the problem?

It seems that some essential oils could also concerned by this issue?

There are of course plants or essential oils (derived from plants) that have recognised and `proven effects on the hormonal system. These properties have been identified a long time ago and this, among other reasons, is why they are used. This also means that these plants or essential oils are accompanied by restrictions on their use: sage or peppermint essential oils, to name but one example, are to be prescribed during pregnancy. These plants or essential oils will therefore be used in very specific therapeutic settings. For further studies on essential oils, the Essential Oils Consortium* (in French) is a valuable source of information. The problem of synthetic endocrine disruptors is very different: these are substances with very specific properties (preservative, pesticide, etc.) that interfere « incidentally » with the hormonal system in quite a serious way.

So how can we avoid endocrine disruptors in our daily lives?

As a result, it cannot be stressed enough that the problem of endocrine disruptors does not ONLY concern certain cosmetic ingredients, but a large part of everyday objects and our food: avoiding pesticides in food, by favouring organic farming, is already a step in the right direction. But it is really our daily consumption choices that will help us avoid adding endocrine disruptors to those already present in numerous products on the market, today.

 

A woman asking herself questions about the dirty dozen, and the endocrine disruptors list in cosmetics.

 

As a result, to avoid endocrine disruptors in cosmetics, here are some steps you can take:

  • Read ingredient labels and check your products with our free INCI research tool
  • Choose natural and organic (certified) products: Look for certifications from reputable organizations like COSMOS, Ecocert, BDIH, Natrue, Soil Association, Cosmébio, USDA Organic, as they have strict standards for ingredient safety.
  • Avoid certain product categories: Some products are more likely to contain endocrine disruptors. Be cautious with cosmetics such as nail polishes, hair dyes, as they tend to have higher levels of EDCs. Consider safer alternatives or reduce their use.
  • Research brands: Look for brands that prioritize ingredient safety and transparency. Visit their websites, read reviews, and look for any commitments to avoid endocrine disruptors.
  • Educate yourself: Stay informed about emerging research and information regarding endocrine disruptors. Understanding the potential risks and new developments will help you make more informed choices when purchasing cosmetics.

Remember, while avoiding endocrine disruptors in cosmetics is a step towards reducing exposure, it’s important to consider other sources of EDCs in your environment, such as household cleaners, clothing, furniture food containers, and water bottles. Taking a holistic approach to reduce exposure to EDCs can help protect your health and well-being.

More information in this interview with Aromathèque (in French) about endocrine disruptors in cosmetics:

 

Explore similar articles on the website about cosmetic ingredients.

SOURCES

  • OMS : https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241505031
  • SANTE PUBLIQUE FRANCE : https://www.santepubliquefrance.fr/determinants-de-sante/exposition-a-des-substances-chimiques/perturbateurs-endocriniens/articles/que-sont-les-perturbateurs-endocriniens
  • TEDX  EN : https://endocrinedisruption.org/interactive-tools/tedx-list-of-potential-endocrine-disruptors/search-the-tedx-list
  • GENERATIONS FUTURES : https://www.generations-futures.fr/publications/perturbateurs-endocriniens/
  • ED LIST / https://edlists.org/?fbclid=IwAR2St_mumKgzevj5MR81QucYxiHD1KMaMD5D0KQ_trDrKolyriZoIgLzKOQ
  • ECHA : https://echa.europa.eu/fr/ed-assessment
  • DANISH Ministry  https://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2016/images/04/14/978-87-93352-82-7.pdf
  • CANCER ENVIRONNEMENT : https://www.cancer-environnement.fr/fiches/expositions-environnementales/perturbateurs-endocriniens/
  • CHEMTRUST : https://chemtrust.org/

 

 

 

Unveiling the Hidden Menace: Battling Microplastics in Cosmetics for a Plastic Pollution-free Beauty Routine

 

Microplastics & cosmetics

Plastic isn’t exactly fantastic – even for cosmetics!

Microplastics & cosmetics- a bit of history about Plastic

On the scale of global human evolution, plastics made their appearance relatively recently, with the appearance of bakelite in 1907 and PVC in 1924, for example. Most of the plastics developed in the 20th century were petrochemicals – produced from refined fractions of petroleum. From the 1950s onwards, with the advent of « mass » consumption and a diversified range of plastics, these materials became part of our daily lives… to the point of saturation, endangering our health, that of animals and the planet.To illustrate this point, let’s take a closer look at microplastic pollution.

 

A beach littered with microplastics
Microplastics are everywhere

credit: Unsplash. Soren.Funk

What exactly are microplastics?

Definition: microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, generally measuring less than 5 millimeters.

Microplastics usually fall into two categories:

Primary microplastics = synthesized microplastics intentionally added to products (this part concerns also the formulation of cosmetic products, for example).

Secondary microplastics = microplastics derived from the degradation of larger plastic wastes (this part also concerns cosmetics packaging, for example).

The specific case of microplastics in cosmetics

Added microplastics components are still widely present in beauty products today in the form of synthetic polymers or microbeads. Their functions are manifold: they can act as exfoliating agents (microbeads), film-formers (e.g. silicones, also known as « liquid plastics »), viscosity regulators, binders, etc…

Concerning « microbead » ingredients, which can still be found as exfoliants in scrubs, shower gels and other « rinse-off products », can account for up to 10% of the product’s total weight* – which corresponds to several thousand microbeads per gram of product!

 

Two women having a closer look at microplastic ingredients in cosmetics
microplastic ingredients in cosmetics

Microplastics INCI in cosmetics

Here are just a few of the ingredients/INCIs in beauty product considered as microplastics and « liquid plastics » such as silicones, for instance

Acrylates Co-, Crosspolymer (AC, ACS)

Polyamides (PA, Nylon)

Polyacrylates (PA)

Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA)

Polyquaternium (PQ)

Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)*

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene Glycol (PPG)*

Polystyrene (PS)

Polyurethane (PUR)

And in the «liquid plastics» category we will find the whole range of silicone-based ingredients, in all their different types and forms, like for example

• Silicones
–Cyclo-, Di-, Amodi-, Tri-, Methicone
–Cyclotetra-, Cyclopenta-, Cyclohexasiloxane
– Dimethiconol –Di-, Tri-, Siloxane , Silsesquioxane

A girl having a real close look at an beauty product ingredient list

Microplastics – still way too common in beauty products today

While alternatives do exist, added microplastics are still very much present, as recently highlighted once again by the Rethink Plastic collective, a collective of some twenty ONGs alerting to the problem of microplastics in cosmetics.

 

Proof: the Plastic Soup Foundation study

In its study and project « Beat the Microbead », the Dutch association Plastic Soup Foundation has carried out a study on microplastic ingredients in cosmetics, analyzing the products of conventional « classic » brands from European top brands: L’Oréal, Nivea, Dove, Gilette and Rexona.

The full study is available on their website. Product analyses show that 9 out of 10 analyzed beauty products still contain these notorious microplastics.

Glitter = microplastics

Another example: those beautiful make-up glitters…. ah gee, is that microplastic too?

Most of the time, the glitter we love for to apply for our very festive parties or even use in children’s make-up is simply plastic, in form of microparticles, made from a mixture of aluminum and plastic components.

Especially when it comes to glitter products from the « conventional » cosmetics sector – plastic microparticles are not allowed in certified natural and organic cosmetics, for example. But alternatives have been available for some years now: « biodegradable » sequins, and even the Rio Carnival is turning its back on microplastics and is getting excited about these new, more environmentally-friendly sequins…

What about the health impact of microplastics?

Pollution & microplastics – everyone is concerned, in the end

Beyond the presence of microplastics as added cosmetic ingredients, these microplastic particles also come from general plastic pollution: particles of various plastics, which pass through the filters of sewage treatment plants (as they are too small to be properly filtered) and then end up in the oceans and continental waters in very large quantities. Microplastic-based pollution has already been traced in various studies throughout our immediate environment. In our oceans, soils, animals and even… in our stomachs, lungs and even our hearts.

Numerous studies on the subject

A study from 2022 also revealed that traces of these microplastics have even been found in human blood. The study, published in Environment International, analyzed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy volunteers, and found microplastics in 17 of them.

« For the first time, we have been able to detect and quantify » such microplastics in human blood, said Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at the Free University of Amsterdam. « This is proof that we have plastics in our bodies – and we shouldn’t, » he told AFP, deeming further research on the possible health impact necessary. According to the study, the microplastics detected could have entered the body via many routes, from air, water or food, to cosmetic products. « It is scientifically plausible that plastic particles can be transported to organs via the bloodstream », add the authors.The big question is what happens inside our bodies, » stresses Professor Dick Vethaak. Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, can they cross the blood-brain barrier? And are these levels high enough to trigger the disease? We urgently need to fund further research so we can find out. »

 

The bottom of the sea is littered with plastic pollution
plastic pollution in the sea

Pregnant women are also affected by the plastic pollution

The placenta is also contaminated by microplastics, reveals an Italian study published in the International Environment journal in 2021. This could affect the health of unborn babies, who are particularly sensitive to endocrine disruptors.

« As for the source of these microplastics, the researchers suggest two possible routes: the dietary route, as these particles are present in both food and water, and the respiratory route, as microplastics are also abundant in the air we breathe. The latter is also a source of fine particles, also found in the placenta. »

Microplastics : what about animals & the environment?

The choice of products we buy and use on a daily basis, whether for cosmetics or any other products (ingredients, packaging and everyday products) never only concerns our very own, narrow personal surroundings – the circle of our personnel health, and the health of our children – but always affects the entire system, as well…

And sooner or later, these consumer choices come back to us « like a boomerang effect » with the accumulation of chemical pollution in the oceans, which then finds its way onto our plates – for those of us who aren’t vegan. Microplastics are already widely present in the environment, affecting flora and fauna, as numerous studies attest.

In an article in Le Monde (french newspaper) published on the 29th of April 2021 entitled « Dans les océans, la pollution chimique menace toute la chaîne alimentaire » (In the oceans, chemical pollution threatens the entire food chain), scientists detail the food chain problem, for example:

« Fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, drug residues, thousands of tons of sunscreen and plastic in all its forms, not to mention sediments laden with various chemicals, juxtapose or synthesize their deleterious effects. The report by the International Pollutant Elimination Network notes that human discharges impact all ocean life, from plankton to birds. Over two hundred of these studies are summarized in a report on Aquatic Pollutants in Oceans and Fisheries, published on Tuesday April 27. The survey was carried out for the International Pollutant Elimination Network (IPEN), which brings together over 600 NGOs in more than 120 countries, with the Australian organization for a toxics-free future (National Toxics Network, NTN). »

A video showing how microplastics in the sea get eaten by fish and end up in our plates.
Microplastics end up in our plates

What is the current status of legislation about « added » microplastics in cosmetics?

In Europe, the restriction or ban on microplastics in cosmetics is not governed by the cosmetics regulation (1223/2009 EC) but regulated independently in the various countries.

This restriction only applies to microplastics intentionally added to products intended for rinsing, e.g. in France, where the Biodiversity Act of 2018 bans plastic microbeads from « rinsed cosmetics » (shower gels, peels, shampoos, etc.) used for cleansing or exfoliation. This ban therefore only covers a fraction of the microplastic problem.Other countries around the world have introduced similar restrictions (USA, Canada, India, Korea…). But harmonization of legislation at European, and even international, level is still some way off.

At 7 kg of plastic discarded every minute

The Rethink Plastic Alliance, which brings together some twenty environmental associations (Plastic Soup Foundation, No Plastic in my sea, Client Earth and Surfrider), highlights the « negative and irreversible damage to our ecosystems » and the risk to human health. « In Europe alone, 7 kg of plastics from cosmetics are released into the environment every minute ».

A man insisting that microplastic pollution, in general is a real global crisis.
microplastic pollution,

A particularly slow ban & a transition phase … mostly in favor of the global plastic industry and manufacturers

On March 1, 2023, the European expert committee that was to decide on the restriction of « intentionally added » microplastics under the Reach regulation postponed its vote. This has also prompted reactions from brands committed to speeding up the process of banning microplastics. A group of around twenty brands and environmental ONGs, led by Weleda, Beauty Kitchen and Naïf, has sent an open letter to the European Commission calling for a faster and more comprehensive ban on microplastics in cosmetics.

Ban of  microplastics in cosmetics

Under the current proposal for a ban on microplastics in cosmetics (which, incidentally, represent only one aspect of this global pollution), transition periods would vary from four years for rinse-off products to 12 years for certain make-up products. Encapsulated fragrances would benefit from five to eight years, and leave-on cosmetics would have six years to adapt.

Two men discussion the Ban of  microplastics in cosmetics
Ban of  microplastics in cosmetics

These are not reassuring figures

Of course, the cosmetics sector is not solely responsible for microplastic pollution, but the cosmetic industry is also part of the problem. The industry as a whole therefore needs to accelerate the process of change. It’s also up to us, as informed and enlightened consumers, to support all those brands that have been committed to environmental protection from the outset, and not just the ones who hopped on the wagon recently, under the greenwashing flag.

And what about plastic packaging?

Again, this aspect doesn’t only concern the cosmetics sector, but the cosmetic industry is part of the problem… and will therefore also have to be part of the solutions.

According to the OECD, global plastic waste is set to almost triple by 2060

At current rates, the amount of plastic waste produced worldwide will triple by 2060, with around half ending up in landfill and less than a fifth being recycled, according to a new OECD report (…) Even with aggressive measures to reduce demand and improve efficiency, plastic production would almost double in less than 40 years, the organization projects. However, such globally coordinated policies could significantly increase the share of future plastic waste recycled, from 12% to 40%.(…) Since the 1950s, some 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced, over 60% of which ended up in landfill, or was burnt or dumped directly into rivers and oceans.

A pot of glitter, which is also usually made of microplastics
Glitter = microplastics

credit : Unsplash. Alexander.Grey

How to avoid microplastics in beauty products

*Choose certified natural and organic cosmetics, as added microplastics are not authorized by the different labels.

  • Read the labels and  formulation of your products using the site’s INCI search to rule out microplastics,
  • On the packaging side: encourage the initiatives of brands that make a real commitment in these directions, such as Überwood and Dr. Bronner’s. Ask your favorite brands – even those in the organic sector – the « tough questions » to find out what they have planned to speed up the process of finding alternatives to plastic packaging.
  • Invite the « zero waste » mouvement into your bathroom; so many products now exist in solid versions, it’s up to you to find the brand or product that suits you. As long as the solid version is not certified organic, continue to check its composition, as some brands still contain too many controversial ingredients.
  • Focus on the essentials: do we really need 4 different creams, with their promise of miraculous ingredients, when a good night’s sleep, a real moment of relaxation, a great surfing session or a laugh shared with girlfriends, releasing tons of endorphins… will give us that instant « healthy glow » effect envied by the world’s best cosmetic formulas? Even certified organic creams? In short, degrowth makes sense, even in the bathroom… and can also turn into a fun process.

Get creative on your plastic-free journey

As far as other everyday products are concerned, the web is full of alternatives and tips on how to get as far away as possible from our current plastic-laden lifestyle.

And even if the biggest lever remains the industrial sector, our daily spending choices remain a truly crucial lever, which can also inspire those around us to do the same. We can’t repeat it often enough: the choice of our everyday consumer products matters… at every level…

 

« Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want. » (Anna Lappe)

 

 

 

TITANIUM DIOXIDE and cosmetics – Why is it a controversial subject?

TITANIUM DIOXIDE: What exactly is it?

Titanium dioxide is a white inorganic compound used as a white coloring in a variety of products. This component is used in the food industry (colouring), cosmetics (UV filters/pigments) and paint (for example for dye or pigments). In cosmetics, the ingredient is generally used either as a pigment/colorant or as a mineral filter as it is able to reflect, disperse and absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays. 

It is a component that is used in different cosmetic products (conventional OR organic), it is therefore also authorised by the different specifications in natural and organic cosmetics (BDIH, NaTrue, Ecocert, Cosmébio, Soil Association, ICEA, etc.).  The use of titanium dioxide in natural and organic cosmetics is therefore quite widespread, since titanium dioxide is mainly used as a mineral filter in sunscreen products or as pigment in make-up products.

INCI name (as it appears on cosmetics labels): titanium dioxide.

Titanium Dioxide : So what’s all the fuss about?

The distrust of the component comes from the fact that the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide as a potentially carcinogenic component (category 2B).  As always, scientific studies must be interpreted in context and it is important not to generalise or draw hasty conclusions from them. Indeed, the IARC study suggests that titanium dioxide can present a carcinogenic risk in the form of dust inhaled by the lungs (in the air, in suspension). Therefore intensive inhalation of titanium dioxide as « loose powder » can be problematic and requires protective measures, especially for workers who are exposed to fine particles of the component. This problem of massive inhalation of fine particles, which can pose significant health problems, concerns not only this component, but also other components that are inhaled on a large scale in a professional context (coal, mineral wool, graphite, etc.)

Therefore,  should all creams containing this ingredient be systematically avoided?

The application on the skin of creams containing titanium dioxide is not being questioned by this study, it is important to distinguish between the different contexts of useThere are also however certain recommendations for sunscreen products which contain the ingredient (as nanoparticules) in the form of sprays. 

Most titanium dioxides currently used in cosmetics and beauty products have also undergone a surface treatment which consists of coating each oxide grain with layers of organic (polyols, esters, etc.) or inorganic (alumina, silica, etc.) compounds. This phase stabilises it, making it non-volatile and preventing its assimilation by the body.

And what about titanium dioxide as a food additive or in medication?

What is titanium dioxide commonly found in?

Titanium dioxide as a food additive, color additive (name E 171) has been banned since 2020 in France and since 2022 in Europe. Yet it is still present in medications (tablets, etc). What poses a problem is the absorption of this component in nanoparticle form, as it is the case in sweets/candies, chewing-gum or even medication, for example. Ingesting titanium dioxide in nanoparticle form is very problematic in the long term.

Is titanium dioxyde in food harmful ?

Back to cosmetics : should all creams containing this component be systematically avoided?

The application on the skin of creams containing titanium dioxide is not questioned by these studies, it is important to distinguish between the different contexts of use

Most titanium dioxides currently used in cosmetics have also undergone a surface treatment which consists of coating each oxide grain with layers of organic (polyols, esters, etc.) or inorganic (alumina, silica, etc.) compounds. This phase stabilises it, making it non-volatile and preventing its assimilation by the body.

With regard to the use of titanium dioxide in general (outside the nano context) in certified natural and organic cosmetics, some labels recommend replacing this component with an alternative in the future, if one exists, as specified by Cosmébio* for example. The label also rightly points out that « if titanium dioxide were to be banned entirely by the …. label, this would also mean that there would be no references at all for make-up and sun protection products ».

 

The Benefits of Titanium Dioxide in sunscreens :

When it comes to sunscreens, titanium dioxide plays a key role in blocking harmful UV radiation, shielding our skin from potential harm. Unlike chemical UV filters, titanium dioxide creates a physical barrier on the skin’s surface, instantly reflecting sunlight away.

This mineral is also considered safe for sensitive skin types, as it is less likely to cause irritation or allergies. It is one of the only alternatives (along with zinc oxide) to synthetic UV filters, most of which are highly controversial, classified as endocrine disruptors, etc. There are also certain recommendations for sunscreen products which contain the component in the form of sprays. (see below)

Is titanium dioxyde safe in sunscreen ?

Are all sunscreen products (organic or conventional) which contain titanium dioxide concerned by this issue?

Let’s recap : the problem is the massive inhalation of titanium dioxide dust, its ingestion as a food additive, its use as nanoparticles in sprays, and not its mere presence in a cream formulation.

What could also possibly be problematic is the presence of this component in the form of nanoparticles in creams, which is not an issue for healthy skin (EU NanoDerm* study), but other studies are looking at the effect that products containing nanoparticles could have on damaged skin, although according to the latest studies it would seem that the protective barrier remains intact and that the substances do not extend beyond the epidermis. To be continued…

But the presence of titanium dioxide in a cosmetic product does not mean « massive inhalation of fine dust », nor does it automatically mean that this component is present in the form of « nanoparticles ». Another more recent study in France ( COSMED APRIL 2021) confirms that titanium dioxide, as such, does not penetrate the skin barrier.

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sunscreen product with mineral or chemical filters
Titanium Dioxide in Sunscreen products

 

Mineral or chemical (synthetic) sunscreen filters ?

Just as a reminder: organic (certified) sunscreen products contain only mineral UV filters, conventional products contain mainly chemical synthetic UV filters or sometimes a combination of synthetic filters and mineral filters.

 

In the form of loose powder, incorporated in sunscreen products, or added in candies or medication?

It is important to distinguish between titanium dioxide ingested in the form of nanoparticles as a food additive,  inhaled as ‘loose powder‘ (which is more related to the industrial sector), added ingredient the medical field (medications), food (candies), an ingredient in « oral cosmetics « (toothpaste, lipstick, etc.) or incorporated as a mineral sunscreen filter in creams or other cosmetics.

 

Titanium Dioxide in toothpaste

As a broad summary concerning titanium dioxide

Conclusion on this ingredient in Cosmetics

(EUROPE) Titanium dioxide is currently still permitted in all cosmetics, with certain restrictions

➡️ Its use in the form of nanoparticles is prohibited in sprays and aerosols.

➡️ As a sunscreen filter, it is limited by the European cosmetic regulation (1223/2009) to a dosage of 25% of the total formula.

➡️ Titanium dioxide mainly poses a problem if it is ingested, swallowed, or used in the form of nanoparticles.

Alternative Options

If you still have reservations about using titanium dioxide in sunscreen products and still prefer choosing an organic certified sunscreen, there are alternative options available. Look for sunscreens that use zinc oxide as the primary UV filter. Zinc oxide provides similar broad-spectrum protection to titanium dioxide and is widely acknowledged as safe and effective.

To conclude

In the realm of cosmetics and skincare, titanium dioxide plays an important role in protecting our skin from harmful UV radiation in sunscreen products. While concerns regarding health risks exist (especially concerning cosmetic products like lipsticks, toothpaste or lipbalm, always partially ingested), regulated use in creams and sunscreens shows minimal danger.

The decision to embrace or avoid titanium dioxide-containing products ultimately rests on personal preference and any specific concerns one might have. As with any skincare ingredient, knowledge is the key to making the right choices for our skin’s health and well-being.

More articles on cosmetics ingredients

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SOURCES

  • EFSA : https://www.efsa.europa.eu/fr/news/titanium-dioxide-e171-no-longer-considered-safe-when-used-food-additive
  • ECHA : https://echa.europa.eu/fr/-/titanium-dioxide-proposed-to-be-classified-as-suspected-of-causing-cancer-when-inhaled
  • INRA : https://www.inrae.fr/actualites/dioxyde-titane-bouche-premiere-voie-passage-du-e171-sang
  • ANSM : https://ansm.sante.fr/uploads/2021/03/11/07fee639ffe2915fd26d91d42a9487d8.pdf

The article dates from 2021, but will be updated regularly based on recent research.