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Notre Dame Study Finds High Levels Of Toxic PFAS Chemicals In Cosmetics

University of Notre Dame


A University of Notre Dame study has found many cosmetics sold in the United States may contain high levels of PFAS, a class of toxic chemicals. Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to several serious health conditions including cancer, hypertension and thyroid issues.


“These results are particularly concerning when you consider the risk of exposure to the consumer,” Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at Notre Dame and principal investigator of the study, said in a press release. “There’s the individual risk — these are products that are applied around the eyes and mouth with the potential for absorption through the skin or at the tear duct, as well as possible inhalation or ingestion.”


Scientists tested more than 200 cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada including foundations, lip and eye products and mascaras. And according to the results, about half of the tested cosmetics contained high levels of fluorine, which indicates PFAS use.


PFAS are known as “forever chemeicals” because they don’t naturally degrade. That means they end up contaminating groundwater and drinking water for decades after their release into the environment.


“PFAS is a persistent chemical — when it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates,” Peaslee said. “There’s also the additional risk of environmental contamination associated with the manufacture and disposal of these products, which could affect many more people.”


PFAS have previously been used in nonstick cookware, treated fabrics and fast food wrappers. They were also recently found in personal protective equipment used by firefighters and are common in foam fire fighting suppressants.


The study was recently published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology Letters.


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Jakob Lazzaro came to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.