Chemicals in cosmetics: a cause for concern?

The cosmetics industry has experienced a huge growth in popularity in recent years. This can be seen from the increasing interest in skincare and the focus of the media and brands on beauty products. However, numerous ethical and environmental concerns have been raised due to the industry’s reliance on potentially harmful chemicals. These are serious issues that need to be explored to gain a better understanding of the risks of the products that we are consuming.

Firstly, the chemicals present in cosmetics pose a potential threat to the wellbeing of consumers. The use of PFAS in products has especially generated worry from several groups.  PFAS stands for  polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances which are chemicals that take a long time to break down. This has earned them the name ‘forever chemicals’. They are useful to the cosmetics industry because they can make products easier to apply and are water-resistant, allowing products to be long-lasting. The Environmental Agency’s 2021 review into the use of PFAS in the UK, found that there are 9 types of PFAS commonly used in products. The BBC’s investigation found that brands such as Urban Decay, Inglot and Revolution have products with PFAS chemicals in. Forever chemicals are a cause for concern due to their link to many health issues. There is limited research on them and uncertainty on their long-term toxic effects. These concerns have caused Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden to submit proposals to the European Chemicals Agency to restrict the use of PFAS.

However, not only do these chemicals raise issues for consumers but also for the environment. As these chemicals do not naturally degrade, they can accumulate in rivers and soil. It has been “estimated that around 4.4 million tonnes of PFAS would end up in the environment over the next 30 years”. Many harmful chemicals are in the packaging of products, contributing to pollution. These chemicals are often released into rivers, damaging biodiversity due to the impact they can have on marine animals and wildlife. More than 30 NGOs have expressed concerns about the threats that PFAS pose to the environment and called for a ban. This shows how the chemicals used in the cosmetics industry harm the environment with it paramount that this is prevented.

Animal testing in the cosmetics industry is a well-known topic of controversy. Historically, chemicals in products have been tested on animals to ensure their safety for human use. This was banned in the UK in 1998 after campaigning by Cruelty Free International and the EU also issued a prohibition on the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals in 2013. However, the government has not been very transparent on their stance with evidence that they have discreetly continued the allowance of animal testing. Also, in Symrise Ag v European Chemicals Agency, the EU ruled that animal testing would be allowed in situations in which it is necessary to protect the safety of workers. This is disturbing as there are many alternatives that are not inhumane and are cost-efficient. The risks that PFAS can have to humans and the environment have already been examined, showing the damage chemicals in products can carry. It is cruel and unfair that animals are still being subjected to having even more harmful substances tested on them when we have other methods available.

However, the cosmetics industry is changing, and this must also be acknowledged. These concerns do not necessarily mean that the use of all cosmetic products should be immediately stopped. There are chemicals in most products we use. For example, apple seeds contain cyanide. As with most things, it is the dosage that is important. It has been “estimated that over 4,500 PFAS chemicals are used by many different industries”, showing their widespread usage. It has been argued by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association that cosmetic products containing PFAS would not be allowed to be on the market if they were not safe and that they undergo rigorous assessment. Also, the industry is changing and responding effectively to these concerns. Many brands have made conscientious efforts to be cruelty-free and limit the use of PFAS. After the BBC investigation, L’Oreal, the owner of Urban Decay, released a statement that they were in the process of phasing out the use of PFAS. Also, the government have confirmed their position against animal testing after public pressure and campaigning by animal rights groups. This shows that positive changes are being enacted.

The cosmetics industry does cause a lot of concern. Even researching about forever chemicals caused me to stress over the ingredients in my own products. However, understanding these risks and making an effort to change is what really matters. The industry is changing for the better, but this has only been possible because of those who have voiced their concerns.

Featured Image: Dan Cristian Paduret on Pexels

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