Scientists Found That 82% of Waterproof Mascaras Have Toxic Chemicals in Them — Here’s What to Shop Instead

Everything to know about PFAS in makeup, and how to tell if your routine has them.

I know exactly where I was when Urban Decay’s original Naked palette launched… In those pre-Instagram days, I don’t remember how I knew it had dropped, but with the fervor of someone who took any chance to detour into Sephora, I knew it would complete me. It was my go-to for years, but the name “Urban Decay” now takes on an unpleasant irony — because Teflon, listed under the name “PTFE,” is on the label. And that’s bad news for everyone. 

As a study published by researchers at the University of Notre Dame in mid-June found, the problem extends far beyond one palette. After testing more than 200 cosmetics, including concealers, foundations, eye and eyebrow products and various lip products, scientists found that 52 percent of all the cosmetics they tested contained high levels of fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in the products. 

According to the EPA, the group of man-made chemicals are “very persistent in the environment and in the human body, meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time.” That explains why they’re used in cosmetics, says Notre Dame study lead Graham Peaslee, despite only a fraction of the tested products listing a perfluorinated chemical on the label. 

They’re used basically to impart a water-resistance or a long-lasting effect, and that’s why we know that some of it’s intentional. If you look at regular mascara and you look at waterproof mascara, guess which ones have all the fluorine in it? It’s the waterproof ones,” Peaslee says. To that point, 47 percent of all the mascaras they tested had PFAS in them, compared to 82 percent of waterproof ones. It was a similar story with liquid lipstick (sob), where 62 percent of them had PFAS, versus 55 percent of all lip products tested.   

As Peaslee notes, previous studies have found that the average lipstick wearer eats anywhere from 4 to 7 pounds of lipstick in a lifetime. That’s worrisome, because the CDC says that exposure to high levels of some PFAS can lead to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancers, changes in liver enzymes, decreased infant birth weights, increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, increased cholesterol, and a decreased vaccine response in children. 

The risks continue, says Rainer Lohmann, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Superfund Research Center on the Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFAS (STEEP). “Numerous studies indicate a link to a weakened immune system, and adverse effects on metabolism, insulin resistance, [and] obesity,” Lohmann told InStyle via email. Which is especially bad news, considering we’re still in the midst of a global respiratory pandemic — and, as a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found, higher exposure to some PFAS that accumulate in the lungs is associated with more severe COVID-19 cases.  

Elsie M. Sunderland, a Harvard professor of environmental science and engineering in the department of environmental health, says that outside of the ingestion pathway, how well PFAS penetrate the skin isn’t well understood. Lohmann says that drinking water contaminated by PFAS or inhaling them is much worse than having Teflon particles in your eyeshadow, but per Peaslee, that doesn’t absolve manufacturers using PFAS in cosmetics. Because once a mascara with the ingredients goes into a landfill, for instance, the contents will wash out and enter the drinking water supply.

Inhalation is also a concern when it comes to aerosol sprays from brands like Living Proof, which uses a perfluorinated ingredient, OFPMA, in a majority of its products. While the brand says “OFPMA is thoroughly researched and regulators around the world confirm that it is safe to use — for you and for the environment,” Peaslee is less certain. 

Are they all toxic? Pretty much. Every one we’ve tested has been toxic, or bioaccumulative and persistent at least,” he says. “So we maintain a pretty strong line that we’ve never met a good PFAS yet.” Lohmann concurs: “Even compounds like OFPMA can cause problems once released. OFPMA will break down to smaller, very long-lived PFAS that will persist in the environment for hundreds of years.” 

There is no good reason to keep using it. Once problems are discovered later, it is almost impossible, and very costly, to remove OFPMA’s breakdown products from the environment and drinking water.” Which brings us to a point that every expert I spoke with highlighted: Wherever possible, we should be cutting out these “forever chemicals,” and as convenient as it is to not have to reapply lipstick or long-lasting foundation, PFAS aren’t essential in cosmetics — and certainly not worth the risk. 

So how do you shop for cosmetics that don’t have PFAS in them when so many are flying under the radar? Peaslee says if it has “remarkable properties of being long-lasting or waterproof, those are the ones that most likely contain PFAS.” If you’re not sure, he recommends a simple test: Paint a piece of paper with a swatch of your lipstick or mascara, put a drop of water on it, and see if it’s there the next morning. If it is, there’s PFAS; if the water soaks into the paper within seconds, there’s not. 

Sound complicated? Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the No PFAS in Cosmetics Act in June, although it’s unclear when the act will pass or take effect. Until then, Peaslee suggests brands place a “PFAS-free” designation on their labels — and while that’s yet to come, brands like It Cosmetics have already taken steps to remove PFAS from popular products (look for ingredients “perfluorohexane,” “perfluorodecalin,” and “pentafluoropropane” to know if you have the old formulas). 

In the meantime, the brands below confirm that they’re PFAS-free, so you can shop knowing you aren’t putting your face up close and personal with a toxic chemical.

INSTYLE

The Best Natural and Organic Makeup Brands That Makeup Artists Actually Use

As many of us become more conscious of what we’re putting in our bodies and what we’re putting our bodies through, we’re also becoming more aware of what we’re putting on our bodies. While the performance of natural makeup used to pale in comparison to products from our favorite makeup counters, there are many natural makeup brands creating products that are richly pigmented, apply beautifully, and wear as well as their more synthetic competitors. You may already be using some of them and don’t even know they’re all-natural.

But before I get into industry favourites, let’s get one thing straight: “Natural” doesn’t automatically mean a product is better or safer for you, as the FDA has nebulous criteria on just what constitutes a natural product (“natural” isn’t regulated for cosmetics, so it can be used purely as a marketing term). “There is no real definition of ‘natural’ in the U.S. beauty industry,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “As long as the bulk of your material is natural, you can say ‘natural-based.’ There is no regulation. The true naturals have seals like COSMOS Natural or Ecocert — European organizations that allow up to 5 percent synthetics.”

The FDA does not have a definition for the term “organic,” either, as it is not defined by either the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act or the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which they use as guidelines. “‘Organic’ usually means USDA-certified food grades. There are limited numbers of products you can make to be classified as organic green,” King says.

“‘Clean beauty’ is a much better term for the consumer as the products are non-toxic and still effective,” says King. “‘Non-toxic’ means free from undesirable ingredients listed by the Environmental Working Group. This is better than claiming ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ as they are products that perform without compromising safety. People want natural because they assume natural ingredients are safe, which is not necessarily the case. They also may not be as effective as synthetic materials.”

This brings me to another point: An ingredient might be natural or organic, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no chance you’ll have an adverse or allergic reaction to it, so it’s important to be aware of what you’re using and how your body responds.

Thanks to growing consumer concern and education, we’re definitely seeing an uptick in the use of the phrase “clean beauty.” Last year, for example, Sephora announced the launch of Clean at Sephora, the company’s new category that clearly establishes which of their products are formulated without controversial ingredients. Those that meet Sephora’s ingredients guidelines are deemed “clean” and receive the retailer’s Clean at Sephora seal.

Ingredients aside, one of the benefits of using natural products is that many, if not all, ingredients are ethically sourced and cruelty-free. As consumers, it’s never been more important to prioritize what we want in our makeup, and our money talks. These days there’s a clean option to switch out every product in your makeup routine, so it’s never been easier to avoid controversial ingredients.

But I also wanted to help you sort out your options. The following products have received high marks from professional makeup artists — who have seen and used it all — so you can start cleaning up your cosmetics bag.

ILIA Beauty

Ilia Beauty is focused on creating clean, pure products with organic bio-active botanicals that nourish skin as they wear. From lipstick to eye shadow and multiple base products, Ilia’s products give you a luxurious feel, look, and wear, while being some of the cleanest makeup you can use.

Puckey is a huge fan of the brand, spotlighting many of its products. “I love how smooth the Fade Into You Powder feels and how it really disappears on the skin. The Illuminators come in three shades that work for a variety of skin tones. I like that it comes in a stick form for easy application.”

“I love the Beauty Essential Shadow Palette in Prima, which has four great, neutral, everyday shades, including my favourite beige shade, and the Satin Cream Lip Crayons have a semi-matte finish and are all super easy to apply,” he adds, calling out the deep, burgundy shade 99 Balloons as a favorite.

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100% Pure Beauty

100% Pure Beauty has a full collection of skin care, makeup, hair, and body products, all made with natural ingredients. The brand is serious about the way it sources its ingredients, too, using a strict methodology to determine and confirm that its products contain no synthetic ingredients. In the past, I’ve been a big fan of its Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream, and I love that its foundations are available in a wide range of shades.

Makeup artist Benjamin Puckey is a big fan of the brand’s lipsticks, telling Allure “100% Pure Cocoa Butter Matte Lipsticks come in such beautiful, bold, matte shades that you forget you’re working with a natural brand.”

He calls out the shade Sonora Red as one that “really packs a punch.”

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Kosas

Each Kosas product is made with active botanicals and balanced with safe synthetics, giving you luxury formulas, beautiful pigments that flatter a multitude of skin tones, and they all look as good as they feel. The beautiful face duos are available in both cream and powder formulas, each including a blush and an illuminator that complement each other and boost your face’s luminosity and glow.

The lipsticks are also not to be missed. Puckey tells Allure, “Kosas has a line of all-natural lipsticks in super chic black packaging. Rosewater (a dusky rose) and Thrillest (bright poppy red) are my favorites.”

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Bite Beauty

Did you know that Bite Beauty is natural and organic? I always forget. These luxe lipsticks are made with 12 different oils, as well as while pearl, silk, red wine, and organic butters; the result is a lipstick that’s incredibly creamy and hydrating, long-wearing and even has benefits from antioxidants for a product that’s actually good for your lips.

“No one does the range of bold color options in the right creamy/waxy base the way Bite does,” makeup artist Katey Denno explains. “They also make a lot of corresponding lip liners, which, until they filled it, had been a big hole in the marketplace.”

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Tower 28 Beauty

Newer to the natural scene, Tower 28 Beauty is becoming a fast favorite among makeup artists, beauty editors, and influencers alike. The whimsical packaging, quality ingredients, and vegan and cruelty-free promise are just a few of many reasons to love this L.A.-based brand, which prides itself on making products suitable for ultra-sensitive skin types. In fact, it’s tagline is #ItsOkayToBeSensitive, which is pretty clever if you ask me.

“Their products are so good for sensitive skin!” says makeup artist Robin Black, who battles rosacea. “I love their SOS Face Spray, cream blushes, and highlighters, and their cheek and lip products are getting lots of buzz for good reason. They’re so pretty on and so easy to use.”

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Lilah B. 

One of the innovators of the now popular and chic swivel compact, Lilah B. is all about creating simple, multipurpose beauty products with clean formulas. Without gluten, sulfates, or parabens, and packed with aloe and botanicals, these products take to skin beautifully, feel luxurious and nourishing, and look amazing on your face and on your vanity.

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Juice Beauty

Juice Beauty takes special care to ensure that its ingredients are certified organic so that no toxins, pesticides, synthetics, or fertilizers make it into its products. Starting with a base of organic botanical juice (hence the name), without any petroleum fillers or added water, each product is packed with antioxidants and concentrated skin-care benefits.

Denno is especially a fan of the Juice Boost Illuminator + Bronzer Duo. “Finely micronized shimmer particles add the perfect amount of highlight, no matter what your skin tone. [It] can be used directly on all areas you highlight: cheeks, Cupid’s bow, bridge of the nose, inner-eye corner, lid, clavicle, shoulders, or can be mixed into foundation to give an overall more glowy look,” she suggests.

“This stuff is unlike any other green beauty highlight product in that it dries completely (and quickly).”

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Lawless

The Lawless tagline is “Clean AF,” and the brand means it. Its liquid lipsticks are formulated without carcinogenic, toxic, hormone- or endocrine-disrupting ingredients. If people ingest up to five pounds of cosmetic chemicals every year, Lawless is trying to make sure that its products — that you put directly on your mouth and skin — are as safe as possible.

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RMS Beauty

Stemming from the founder’s own need for clean-beauty products free of toxic chemicals and metals, RMS Beauty is a line of ultra-luxurious, pared-down multitaskers that have become favorites in the industry. It’s a bit like a grown-up Glossier, with rich formulas, bright colors, and twinkling shimmers that make a welcome addition to any beauty routine, no matter how simple or complex it may be.

The line’s hero product is the Living Luminizer, a highlighter in a pot, that you tap onto the high points of your face, as you do, for a glow that is equal parts natural and ethereal. It pairs well with any product you put it on top of (or under) and wears like it’s a part of you.

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Milk Makeup

Since it’s inception in 2014, Milk Makeup has become a major power player in the vegan and cruelty-free beauty category. With innovative products that are as pretty and fun to use as they are effective, it’s easy to see why so many people adore the brand. Speaking of which, makeup artist Quinn Murphy, who works with stars like Kristen Bell, Julianne Moore, and Karlie Kloss — among myriad others — tells Allure it’s one of his top-favorite natural beauty brands. If you’ve yet to try anything from Milk, the Hydro Grip PrimerKush Mascara, and Glow Oils (pictured above) are all great products to start with.

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Beautycounter

With a tagline like #BetterBeauty, Beautycounter strives to use only the safest ingredients possible and none of the nasties. It even has what it calls “The Never List,” which includes harsh chemicals, dangerous preservatives like formaldehyde, and synthetic flavors and fragrances. The brand offers makeup, skin-care, and bath and body products, as well as an array of kits for men, babies, and traveling. Schlip is especially partial to its eye makeup products — specifically, the Velvet Eyeshadow Palette, which is a best-seller and excellent for creating a wide range of natural, everyday looks.

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Rituel De Fille

Founded by three sisters in Los Angeles, Rituel De Fille is known for its witchy aesthetic and magic-inspired formulas. “They have amazing products with minimal ingredients and really interesting colors,” says Black, who’s a huge fan of the brand. “Standouts are the Eye Soots, but the lip and skin products are also great… they hold up well on camera, too, so perfect for Zooming!”

If you love cream-based products, you can’t go wrong with any of its Inner Glow Créme Pigments or Enchanted Lip Sheers, both of which come in a variety of mesmerizing shades that suit most skin tones.

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ALLURE article