scorecardHow to find makeup that doesn't contain cancer-linked 'forever chemicals'
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How to find makeup that doesn't contain cancer-linked 'forever chemicals'

Andrea Michelson   

How to find makeup that doesn't contain cancer-linked 'forever chemicals'
LifeScience2 min read
Half of makeup products tested in a study contained indicators of potentially toxic chemicals.     Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock
  • Some popular makeup products were found to contain potentially harmful chemicals called PFAS.
  • Apps like Clearya and EWG's Skin Deep Guide can help consumers avoid listed PFAS.
  • But many products don't list PFAS on labels. Government action is needed to ban them completely.

Ever since a recent study found potentially harmful chemicals in some popular makeup products, the Green Science Policy Institute has been fielding questions about how to choose safe cosmetics.

The researchers tested 231 makeup products purchased from Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond. According to findings published last month, more than half of the products tested contained indicators of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

PFAS are also known as "forever chemicals" because they are slow to break down in the environment and in the human body if ingested, the GSPI senior scientist Thomas Bruton previously told Insider. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to health problems including ​​cancer, hormone imbalances, fertility issues, and obesity.

The institute has been inundated with inquiries about how to avoid PFAS in makeup since the study results were published, a representative told Insider. Since then, the team has published a guide to choosing healthier makeup.

Some apps and websites scan makeup-ingredient lists for you

Avoiding PFAS is a complicated undertaking, considering that some makeup products contain chemicals not listed on the labels.

There are some consumer-facing tools designed to help decode ingredient lists, so you can at least see whether the maker has disclosed any potentially harmful chemicals.

Clearya is a free mobile app and browser plug-in that automatically scans cosmetics ingredients as you shop online. At checkout, the user is notified of any unsafe ingredients, such as PFAS, in their cart.

A spreadsheet of Clearya PFAS in cosmetics data
The GSPI found 34 different PFAS on ingredient lists in Clearya's database.      Clearya and Green Science Policy Institute

Nearly 1,000 products in Clearya's database contain at least one PFAS, according to GSPI.

The Environmental Working Group also has an online Skin Deep Guide which consumers can use to search thousands of makeup products to see what chemicals they contain.

Other sites list PFAS-free makeup brands

For consumers seeking makeup that's confirmed to be free of PFAS, the GSPI has compiled a list of brands that have banned the chemicals.

Annmarie Skin Care, Credo, and H&M all have clean beauty policies stating that their cosmetics products do not include PFAS. The companies have either banned PFAS outright or avoided including them in their products.

L'Oreal is the only multinational beauty company to have completely eliminated the use of PFAS in their products, Insider previously reported.

Some stores, like Ulta Beauty, do not ban PFAS completely but offer "clean ingredients" sections for conscious consumers. Products listed in that category are made without 24 potentially harmful ingredients, including PFAS chemicals.

Avoiding unlabeled PFAS will require industry or government action

Nearly 90% of the products that had indicators of PFAS in the study did not list PFAS on the ingredients labels, so consumers might be exposed to the chemicals unknowingly. Government oversight could help reduce those exposures, or at the very least help cosmetics consumers make informed decisions.

After the publication of the study, lawmakers introduced to the US Senate two bills to regulate chemicals in cosmetics.

The No PFAS in Cosmetics Act would ban the intentional use of PFAS chemicals in makeup, while the Personal Care Products Safety Act would require companies to submit their ingredients to the Food and Drug Administration for review.

If the bills pass, it could mean big changes for the US cosmetics industry. In the meantime, the GSPI also recommends reaching out to makeup companies directly to ask them to ban PFAS in their products.