BBC News has revealed that leading beauty brands Urban Decay, Revolution and Inglot are selling make-up products containing “forever chemicals” in the UK.
Known as PFAS, these pollutants have been associated with serious health problems, including cancer.
They are not illegal in the UK, but five European countries are expected to propose an EU-wide ban on Friday.
L’Oréal, which owns Urban Decay, told the BBC it was “on track” to phase out chemicals.
Representing poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS is oil and water resistant, making them highly valuable to the makeup industry.
Historically, it has been added to products to make them last longer, improve finish, and preserve the color of eyeshadows and lipsticks.
Many brands are now “PFAS-free” due to growing evidence of the adverse environmental and health effects of these compounds.
But a BBC News study of the UK cosmetics market found that dozens of products containing these toxic chemicals are still sold in the UK.
High exposure has been associated with cancer, birth defects and thyroid problems.
Research is ongoing to determine the effects of lower exposure levels such as makeup, but scientists and politicians are concerned even at these levels because PFAS can accumulate in the environment.
These substances contain strong bonds that cannot be broken down naturally, so as more products are used and discarded, for example by washing off makeup, PFAS begins to accumulate in rivers, soil and has even been detected in human blood.
Studies that exposed animals to PFAS in laboratories found it caused birth defects, liver damage, and neonatal death. So far, most of these studies have tested doses at higher levels than those usually found in the environment.
Environmental chemist Prof. Miriam Diamond told the BBC that consumers should be concerned about low-level contamination in products due to limited information on long-term toxic effects. .
On Friday, Germany, along with four other European countries, will submit a proposal to the EU to ban the production and use of PFAS due to concerns about human accumulation and exposure.
This potential risk led the Environment Agency (EA) to conduct a review of PFAS use in the UK in 2021.
During this review, EA asked cosmetics industry body CTPA to tell us which PFAS compounds are still used in the UK cosmetics industry and by which companies.
The CTPA told EA that nine PFASs are in use, but declined to share company names for “commercial reasons.”
EA did not publish the names of the nine PFASs currently used by the industry in its final report. But BBC News’ Freedom of Information request to EA has now exposed them. The BBC searched thousands of ingredient lists of the most popular UK brands and common types of products known to use PFAS: mascara, eyeshadow, foundation and lipsticks.
Products manufactured by Revolution, Inglot, and Urban Decay, a subsidiary of L’Oréal, have been found to contain PFAS, called PTFE, and Polyperfluoromethylisopropyl Ether. They were sold at multiple outlets as well as their own websites.
Examples of products included:
Relove High Key Shadow Palette
Revolution Power Shadow Palette 90s Baby
I Heart Revolution Mini Match Palette Fried Egg Fred
Urban Decay BARE Pallets 2
Urban Decay BARE Pallets 3
Urban Decay Smoked Palette
Inglot X Maura Beautiful Storm Eyeshadow Palette
Inglot Evening Kiss Eyeshadow Palette
Inglot Complexion Perfection Essentials Palette Deep
Although the use of PFAS is legal in the UK, the Health and Safety Administration will now publish an assessment for the government of the health risks of PFAS. This follows EA review and will be the first step in regulating chemicals.
A group of more than 30 NGOs is now urging the government to completely ban non-essential use in the UK, following in the footsteps of the EU’s proposal and actions by US states such as California.
risk to rivers
The director of chemicals policy for the Marine Conservation Society, part of the NGO group Dr. Francesca Bevan said they wanted regulation because water treatment processes are currently not effective at removing PFAS from wastewater, meaning they are being released into our rivers.
“Some PFASs have already been associated with health effects in marine animals, such as reduced immune, liver, blood and kidney function in bottlenose dolphins, or impaired thyroid hormone in seabirds, and for other health effects it is likely only a matter of time before they become recognized.”
Industry body CTPA declined to interview the BBC on the matter, but said in a statement, “The cosmetics industry welcomes any action that will protect the environment and our health from harm.”
They also added that they “have been working with the UK Environment Agency for several years to help the agency better understand the sources of PFAS chemicals”.
But an email exchange seen by the BBC between senior advisers at the Environment Agency in late 2022 calls into question the transparency of the industry. In the exchange, they revealed: “We know very little about the use of PFAS in cosmetics.”
Mia Davis, vice president of sustainability at Credo beauty, one of many brands to ban these chemicals, told the BBC their products show “we can do beautiful makeup without them”.
But Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu, formerly formulation chemists at major beauty brands and now managing their own PFAS-free brand, Chemist Confessions, said the industry needs to be wary of a sudden reaction to certain chemicals like PFAS. There can be upsetting substitutes in cases where the substitution chemical is not tested.
L’Oréal told the BBC that product safety is its top priority and has made the decision to phase out all PFASs in 2018. A L’Oréal spokesperson said: “Plans for phase-out and substitution are ongoing and we have already removed PFASs from most of our products.”
Revolution and Inglot did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.