June 17, 2021- In the autumn of 1987, President Chun Doo-hwan, the autocratic leader of South Korea, came out with an amazing edict: Parliament was to investigate, and curb, the use of toxic chemicals in women’s cosmetics. The members of Parliament were appalled that this was going on, and swiftly complied with the President’s directive-not something that regularly happened, in the slowly changing South Korea of the late 1980s.
As newly arrived temporary residents of Jeju, where we were involved in teaching English to university students, Penny and I were also appalled at the toxicity of such a basic product, and gratified that the macho President had placed priority on women’s health. She was able to get non-toxic cosmetics, fairly regularly, from late 1987, onward.
Penny preferred a natural line of cosmetics, from a company called The Body Shop, which she regularly used, after we returned to Arizona, in 1992. She had enough of a struggle, with the hand she was dealt by heredity, without buying into the culture of toxicity.
It was with a considerable sense of outrage, then, that I read today’s report from Notre Dame University, which “found that 56% of foundations and eye products and 47% of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine- an indicator of PFAS, so-called ‘Forever chemicals’ that are used in nonstick frying pans, rugs and countless other consumer products.” (Matthew Daly, Associated Press, June 17, 2021, taken from the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, June 15, 2021) . The study also reports that the highest PFAS levels were found in waterproof mascara (82%) and in long-lasting lipstick (62%). Of all the products tested, only ONE listed PFAS as an ingredient on the label.
Fortunately, both the EPA and Congress are moving on this issue, albeit belatedly. One Congresswoman remarked that she could not identify PFAS, in her own makeup, as the products were not properly labeled. That is likely true, across the board.
Here is the wider issue: Besides poisoning and endangering the lives of so many who are near and dear to us, Dr. Graham Peaslee, the principal researcher into this issue, at Notre Dame, states that “PFAS is a persistent chemical. When it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates.” This has implications for babies in the womb or who are being breastfed. Then, there is the environmental contamination, which surely results from manufacturing and disposal. What effects does PFAS have on our water and soil?
A wake-up call for the cosmetics industry? That is the understatement of the year!