There are countless ingredients that we’ve been taught to avoid in our products, but you’ve probably received no warning about a common, toxic but invisible chemical: perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Known as “forever chemicals,” because they don’t break down in the environment or in our bodies, PFAS—resistant to water, grease, and heat—are found in a range of everyday products. These include food packaging, clothing, cosmetics, and toilet paper.
Many big brands rely on PFAS in their manufacturing processes, and consumers pay the price. The dangers of these chemicals are well-recorded, with PFAS linked to serious, chronic health issues. They are carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors, which has an associated risk with cancers, hormone imbalances, and more. Current scientific studies suggest that when we’re exposed to PFAS, they build up in our systems. But without context, who knows what PFAS are, what they do, or how to spot them? How can consumers keep themselves safe?
We’re here to help. Read on to learn about the background of PFAS, why you should care, and how brand awareness is making a difference.
WHAT THE HECK IS A PFA?
A part of the “forever chemical” family, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals that are created when highly reactive fluorine (often gas) is chemically reacted to organic compounds. The acronym “PFAS” encompasses thousands of individual compounds. The two most studied and regulated are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
These substances are so much a part of our environment—including our food, water, and air—that researchers have even found PFAS in the human body. That’s right—blood testing located PFAS in 97% of human samples (CDC), meaning the majority of people are living with these chemicals in their bloodstream. So, how are PFAs getting away with leeching onto your life through the goods you use every day?
WHAT DO PFAS HAVE TO DO WITH YOU?
You can find PFAS in every industry, from cookware to clothing. Those “stain resistant” cotton sheets that claim to be 100% cotton? PFAS are what give them their grime-repelling quality. This is also true of reinforced textiles, such as stain-resistant carpeting, clothing, and upholstery. The culinary industry is one of the biggest culprits, using PFAS in everything from grease-resistant takeaway containers to sealed paper cups to popcorn bags. And of course, plenty of homes worldwide have non-stick, Teflon pans, which have been filling homes with PFAS for decades. Despite these chemicals being heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, countless companies continue to get away with using PFAS in their production—including cosmetic brands. A brand is not required to test or disclose if their products are treated with these substances making it virtually impossible to the average consumer to avoid.
A great resource we found that uses third party labs to test brands is this website: www.mamavation.com. Started as a way to find eco products for moms they are one of the few objective sites that breaks down popular products throughout the home to help reveal what is considered safe if you are looking to avoid forever chemicals and toxins.
CLASSIFIED AS FOREVER CHEMICAL
There are four main reasons supported by scientific reasoning for this now ubiquitous nomenclature.
Lack of Natural Degradation Mechanisms. PFAs are composed of carbon-fluorine (C-F) bonds, which are among the strongest chemical bonds in nature. These bonds are extremely difficult to break, making PFAs highly resistant to degradation by natural processes such as microbial or chemical breakdown. Microorganisms and enzymes that typically break down organic matter do not effectively metabolize PFAs, allowing them to persist in the environment for unknown extended periods of time.
Bioaccumulation: PFAs have the ability to bioaccumulate in living organisms. This means that when PFAs enter the environment, they tend to accumulate in the tissues of animals and humans over time. This bioaccumulation can lead to higher concentrations of PFAs in organisms higher up the food chain, potentially posing health risks.
High Mobility and Transport: PFAs are highly soluble in water, which allows them to easily spread and transport through soil and groundwater. This mobility can lead to the widespread contamination of water sources, further increasing their environmental persistence.
High Chemical Stability: PFAs exhibit remarkable chemical stability, even in harsh conditions such as extreme temperatures or exposure to strong acids and bases. This stability ensures their longevity in various environments.
HOW DO PFAS IMPACT PERSONAL CARE?
PFAS in personal care show up in two common ways: packaging and formula. Beauty products that depend on heavy fragrances will treat and reinforce their packaging with PFAS. This includes products like perfumes and colognes, body mists, and even “natural” essential oils.
More concerning, though, is that PFAS infest more than just wrapping: they’re trapped in the products themselves. Inside many skincare and cosmetic products—including waterproof mascara, eyeliners, sunscreen, nail polish, and dental floss—sit these highly carcinogenic chemicals. PFAS are slipped into the formulas of these items to make them more resistant to sweat, rain, tears, and moisture.
Sure, the short-term effects help make their usage desirable: you don’t have to worry about a hot day, watery eyes, or an emotional moment having a messy impact on your skin. However, long-term, consistent exposure to PFAS is very harmful, even in trace amounts—including daily use of a topical cosmetic product. The scary truth is that many makeup and skincare companies that use PFAS choose not to label them as an ingredient, leaving loyal consumers completely in the dark.
WE DEW THINGS DIFFERENTLY
We at DEW Mighty have long committed to plastic and PFA-free production. Notice the water-resistant glossiness of our packaging? This isn’t a sign of PFAS. Our products come enclosed in veggie-coated paper, with compostable shipping materials (down to the plant-based ink). Additionally, our BLOOM, NOVA, and OASIS bars are made to fit within our plated steel containers, which can be used again and again to hold refills of DEW products.
Forever chemicals have no place in our brand. Despite the ongoing reliance of other companies on PFAS, we strive to dew better for our consumers. You can count on us for transparency about every ingredient that goes into our bars and powders, with none of the toxins that inhabit other high-chemical products.
GREAT ADDITIONAL READS
EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, April 28). PFAS Explained.https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-explainedNIH National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences. (2022, June 17). Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc/index.cfm
Perkins, T. (2021, Dec 18). PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ constantly cycle through ground, air and water, study finds. The Guardian.https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/17/pfas-forever-chemicals-constantly-cycle-through-ground-air-and-water-study-finds
“Plastic containers can contain PFAS — and it’s getting into food” via Notre Dame News
“Inhance Technologies sued over PFAS in plastic food containers” via Reuters
“Got Plastic With a No. 2 Recycling Symbol? Beware a Toxic Problem” via Bloomberg
“Breaking Down Toxic PFAS” via Earth Justice
“Is Teflon in Your Cosmetics?” via EWG’s Skin Deep
“Forever Chemicals” Called PFAS Show Up in Your Food, Clothes, and Home” via NRDC
Collab with piper Gourley