The study shows that 16 out of 31 samples from cosmetic products contained measurable concentrations of at least one PFAS. Photo: Nikita Buida/Mostphotos

Cosmetic products are used by many people, but not much information is given on the packaging of what they actually contain. A new study by researchers at the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES) shows that foundation and powders contained high concentrations of PFOA and other highly fluorinated substances, besides large amounts of unidentified chemicals.

The scientists have tested 31 cosmetic products from five product categories: cream, foundation, pencil, powder and shaving foam. The products were analysed for 39 different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). In total, 16 out of 31 samples contained measurable concentrations of at least one PFAS.

“Cosmetic products are an interesting and important subject, for several reasons. Besides the analytical challenges and novelty which were reasons for us to pursue this study, cosmetic products such as foundations and sun blocks are used extensively by many people, including kids. There is not much information about which PFASs are contained in cosmetic products, and we detected many that were not listed on the packaging. Also, there is not much information about how they are taken up through the skin, distributed through the body and what kind of effects they can have to the human body”, says Lara Schultes, first author of the article published in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.

Lara Schultes.

PFASs comprise a large and diverse group of synthetic chemicals which have been produced since the 1940s. Concerns surrounding PFASs are principally due to their widespread occurrence in humans and the environment and links to adverse health effects. One of the lesser known uses for PFASs is in cosmetic products which come into contact with the skin.

“This is one of the first studies studying per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in cosmetic products, and to the best of our knowledge the first one directly analysing some of the tested products for their listed fluorinated ingredients“, says Lara Schultes.

The team also focused on human exposure to PFASs through cosmetic products.

“Dermal absorption is very scarcely studied, and therefore we could only estimate the uptake of PFOA from these products, and not for the ones that were found in several orders of magnitude higher concentrations. Our modelling results show that regular use of foundations containing large amounts of PFOA could lead to high uptakes of PFOA, exceeding daily intakes of PFOA via diet for the Swedish population.”

Lara Schultes says that initial data of the project was made available in an information campaign by their collaborators at the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL Svenska Miljöinstitutet) and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen).

“As a consequence, several make-up companies, including H&M, L’Oréal, The Body Shop, Kicks and Isadora, have announced to phase-out PFASs from their cosmetic products. I hope that our peer-reviewed paper can convince even more companies to eliminate hazardous chemicals, not only PFASs, from their products, especially if they don’t seem to have any beneficial effect on the performance properties of the products, as it seems to be the case for PFASs.”

“Furthermore, we hope to see more studies investigating the dermal absorption properties of PFASs, as lack of this data emerged as one of the main limitations to our study”, says Lara Schultes.

All product names and brands analysed in the study are listed in the paper.


The article “Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and fluorine mass balance in cosmetic products from the Swedish market: implications for environmental emissions and human exposure” is published in the scientific journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.

Contact information

Visiting addresses:

Geovetenskapens Hus,
Svante Arrhenius väg 8, Stockholm

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Department of Environmental Science
Stockholm University
106 91 Stockholm

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