Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Cosmetics
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of human-made chemicals used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. Certain PFAS are also intentionally added as ingredients in some cosmetic products, including lotions, cleansers, nail polish, shaving cream, foundation, lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara. These PFAS are used in cosmetics to condition and smooth the skin, making it appear shiny, or to affect product consistency and texture.
The label of a cosmetic product sold on a retail basis to consumers declares the ingredients in descending order of predominance. Some common PFAS used as ingredients in cosmetics include PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), perfluorooctyl triethoxysilane, perfluorononyl dimethicone, perfluorodecalin, and perfluorohexane.
Some PFAS may also be present in cosmetics unintentionally as the result of raw material impurities or due to the breakdown of PFAS ingredients that form other types of PFAS.
Research on PFAS in Cosmetics
There have been few studies on the presence of PFAS in cosmetics. Those studies that have been published found the concentration of certain PFAS in cosmetics—as impurities or as ingredients—ranged from the parts per billion level to the 100s of parts per million range. Not all PFAS that may be found in cosmetics can be readily measured, because the specific “fingerprint” or analytical standard of the chemical compound may not be available, making their detection and quantitation challenging.
There is also limited research on whether PFAS in cosmetics are absorbed through the skin at levels that could be harmful to human health. A 2018 study by Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency, the only risk assessment that has evaluated PFAS in cosmetics, was conducted on certain PFAS unintentionally present in cosmetics. The study focused on five different types of PFAS impurities that were detected in the largest number of different cosmetic products and in relatively high concentrations. The researchers determined that the levels of PFAS in the individual products tested are unlikely to pose a health risk for consumers. Because data from this and other published studies are limited, they cannot be used to draw definitive conclusions about the potential health risks of PFAS in cosmetics.
Additional research is needed to determine:
1) toxicological profiles for PFAS in cosmetics;
2) the extent to which various PFAS in cosmetics can be absorbed through the skin; and
3) the potential for human health risks from this type of exposure.
As these research gaps are filled, the FDA will continue to monitor the PFAS literature for toxicity studies and for dermal absorption information.
The FDA's Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP) is a reporting system for use by manufacturers, packers, and distributors of cosmetic products that are in commercial distribution in the United States. Data obtained from FDA’s VCRP corroborate that—as noted above—PFAS are used as ingredients in certain cosmetics, such as lotions, cleansers, nail polish, shaving cream, and some types of makeup, such as lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara.
The frequency of use data in VCRP show that over a 9-month period, between 2019-2020, there were approximately 21 types of PFAS used as ingredients. Fifteen of these types decreased in overall use from the first frequency of use data report in 2019 to the second frequency of use data report in 2020. During this same period, the number of formulations containing at least one of the 21 types of PFAS decreased from 506 to 235. Because registration and product listing are voluntary, these data cannot be used to draw definitive conclusions about the types and amounts of PFAS present in registered cosmetics or to determine which cosmetics may contain PFAS but have not been registered in the VCRP.
As the science on PFAS in cosmetics continues to advance, the FDA will continue to monitor the VCRP data and published research and continue to engage with stakeholders. Additionally, the FDA will collaborate, as resources allow, with partners and other government agencies to conduct research to fill data gaps.