Does your mascara contain these soon-to-be-banned ingredients?

This month New Zealand became one of the first countries to ban “forever chemicals” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in cosmetic products.

This ban takes effect from 31 December 2026 but what does it all really mean, what are PFAS and how do you know if they’re in your mascara or lippy?

PFAS explained

The reason PFAS are often described as “forever chemicals” is because they don’t break down easily.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of about 10,000 synthetic chemicals used for their non-stick and detergent properties.

“PFAS are typically used in cosmetics for long wear (lipstick) and waterproofing (mascara) as well as providing a smooth slip,” says Emma Peters, founder of Aleph Beauty whose cosmetics are PFAS-free.

PFAS are sometimes also used in products such as nail polish, shaving cream and foundation. They’re added to smooth the skin, or to make cosmetic products more durable, spreadable and water-resistant.

PFAS – Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – 3D molecule conformer. 3D Illustration

Why banning PFAS is a good thing

“We know these chemicals don’t easily break down, they can build up in our bodies,” says Dr Shaun Presow, Hazardous Substances Reassessments manager of EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) who are behind the ban.

The move to ban these by EPA is to further protect consumers and the environment.

“International research suggests PFAS are only found in a small number of products, but we take a precautionary approach to potential risks from PFAS,” says Dr Presow. “Banning these chemicals in cosmetics is part of our ongoing response, which includes phasing out all PFAS-firefighting foams and testing for background levels of PFAS in the New Zealand environment.”

The decision on PFAS is one of several updates that have been made to the Cosmetic Products Group Standard, to ensure cosmetic products are safe and the rules better align with international developments.

Emma Peters founder of Aleph Beauty

What to look out for on product labels

“It’s not always as simple as checking the label for PFAS,” says Peters. “Look out for ingredients with “perfluor” or “polyfluor” in the name, though this isn’t always the only indicator. The best place to start in finding products free from PFAS is to shop with trusted brands that are values-based. These brands will know where their ingredients come from and are most likely formulated clean from the start.”

Mukti, founder of Mukti Organics, advises checking product labels for the presence of specific PFAS compounds or looking for products that explicitly state they are PFAS-free. “Choosing products with natural and organic ingredients can also reduce the likelihood of PFAS exposure.”

Cosmetic products manufactured in New Zealand are less likely to contain PFAS ingredients says Dr Presow, and research suggests that PFAS are only used in a small number of products internationally.

While there is likely not an urgent need for consumers to change habits before the phase-out period, Dr Presow encourages consumers to check the label for ingredients, including PFAS, to make sure they are making the best choices they can for themselves and the environment.

Some common PFAS used as ingredients in cosmetics include:

•           PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene)

•           perfluorooctyl triethoxysilane

•           perfluorononyl dimethicone

•           perfluorodecalin

•           perfluorohexane.

Look for products labelled as PFAS-free, or contact the manufacturer of the product for more information about ingredients.

The phase-out phase, and disposal

There is a transition period for importing and manufacturing cosmetic products containing PFAS until 31 December 2026. The remaining stock can be sold until 31 December 2027, and any remaining products containing PFAS must be disposed of by 30 June 2028.

“We expect the cosmetic industry will look to reformulate products over the next two to three years. By 31 December 2027, there will likely be far fewer cosmetic products containing PFAS in New Zealand, and a minimal amount of cosmetic products to be disposed of,” says Dr Presow.

“There are strict rules in place for importers and manufacturers to safely dispose of any chemicals in Aotearoa New Zealand, including cosmetic products containing PFAS, to ensure minimum harm to people or the environment.”

The specified timeline for the phase-out and disposal of PFAS-containing products provides clarity for businesses to adapt to these changes says Mukti. “I hope this ban encourages the industry as a whole to innovate responsibly and prioritise the use of safer alternatives.”

Safer alternatives are already available in the marketplace with brands such as Aleph and Mukti.

“Green chemistry has made incredible strides in creating clean ingredients with superior profiles to rival many old-school cosmetic nasties,” says Peters. “These days, high-end clean ingredients combined with clever formulation can deliver high-performing make-up that is also healthy for the wearer and the planet.”

Mukti founder of Mukti Organics

The compound effect

The ban of PFAS in cosmetics is applauded by both Peters and Mukti.

“No matter what country you live in, humans are exposed to ‘invisible’ chemicals in the beauty industry every single day, and PFAS are just one example of these. They haven’t been dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ for no reason – they can accumulate in the body over time and have been linked to various health issues,” says Mukti.

“Prior to regulations like this, the cosmetic industry has abided by the assumption that ‘the dose makes the poison’. Yet the concern with this attitude is that we’re unable to adequately capture the long-term, compounded effects of using toxic chemicals daily. Alarmingly, the long-term effects of dousing the body in hazardous chemicals aren’t widely known. That’s because they’re minimised, shrouded in secrecy, and generally kept under wraps by the companies that produce them.”

Mukti says the ‘safe-until-proven-otherwise’ approach means that almost every product on the market hasn’t been adequately tested for safety or adverse side effects. According to Mukti, up to 80 per cent of chemicals used in cosmetics have never been tested. “That’s without taking into consideration what happens when they’re mixed in a chemical cocktail and applied to our bodies,” she says. “The move by the EPA turns its back against these nebulous methods of testing and signals a step in the right direction towards safeguarding the health of consumers.”

Tighter regulations

The EPA has also strengthened the regulations so non-hazardous cosmetic products that contain a hazardous ingredient are now regulated.

“This makes it easier for us to enforce the rules around banned and restricted ingredients that may be found in these products,” says Dr Presow.

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