You probably haven’t thought too much about Teflon — a synthetic chemical that’s mostly known for coating cooking pans to make them nonstick. The Environmental Working Group released a study that found that Teflon was lurking in some of our beauty products. And — spoiler alert — that’s probably not a good thing.
The EWG study in question found that some personal care products in its database contain Teflon and PFASs (more on what both of those terms mean in a minute). The study notes that PFAS’s are among the most worrisome of synthetic chemicals. We talked to experts, including David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG and the co-author of the report on “Is Teflon In Your Cosmetics?.” Here’s what you need to know.
What is Teflon?
“Teflon is a brand name for polyttrafluoroethylene (PFTE),” says Dr. Mirela Mitan, Phd, CEO of MMXV Infinitude. (She’s a leading skincare biochemist who has worked on formulas for some of the biggest skin care companies in the world). “From a chemist’s perspective, Teflon is extremely stable, as it doesn’t react with any other chemicals and provides an almost frictionless surface.” Teflon is used in a wide variety of ways, from creating a nonstick barrier on kitchen utensils to a fabric protector for our clothing.
Why is it in some beauty products?
Okay, but why is the chemical that makes our pans nonstick in our beauty products? “Teflon and other similar chemicals, known as per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, are used in skin care products and cosmetics because these ingredients can provide a smooth, sleek finish, and they can also provide a different feel or “slipperiness” to the product,” Andrews says. PFAS’s are used in some hair care products as a detangler and frizz-reducer. They’re also used in waterproof cosmetics to repel oil and water.
What are the effects of Teflon in beauty products?
PFAS’s and Teflon aren’t just in our beauty products. “PFAS chemicals are widely used in hundreds of consumer and industrial products, and contaminate the environment in many ways from their production to use and disposal,” says Andrews. “These chemicals have polluted the blood of nearly every American, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” These chemicals can accumulate in our blood, and have been linked to serious health issues like cancer, hormone disruption, and liver damage, he adds.
“What could be an issue, however, is the decomposition of Teflon, which is created by overheating and generating fumes. PFIB (perfluoroisobutene) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acids) could have a carcinogenic potential, according to the EPA,” Mitan tells HelloGiggles. “They are extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to degradation.”
Mitan notes that there are studies on these chemicals, but that they aren’t directly relevant to the safety of cosmetics. The tests of PTFE and Polychlorotrifluoroethylene involved heat and reduced pressure. Cosmetic safety does not fall under these use conditions.
Outdated regulations from the 193os make it totally legal for chemicals like Teflon to make it into our cosmetics, according to the study. “Not enough is known about the health impacts of these chemicals. Until more is known, EWG strongly urges people to avoid all products with PFAS,” says the study.
How to tell if it’s in your products:
Mascaras typically have the highest concentration of Teflon (at 13 percent), Mitan tells HelloGiggles. The lowest concentrations are typically in rinse-off products (at 2.4 percent).
But before you toss your entire makeup bag, there is good news. The study found Teflon in a relatively low number of products. They found PFAS chemicals in 200 products from 28 brands. 66 products from 15 brands contained Teflon. Their database contains over 74,000 personal care products, for some perspective. Given that it appears safer alternatives are available, it seems pretty unnecessary for PFAS chemicals to be in our personal care products.
It’s pretty easy to find out if your products contain PFAS’s. Check your product labels for any ingredient that contains the word “fluoro.” You can also search EWG’s Skin Deep database.