Nu à sa toilette

Is Makeup Making Us Fat?

Who would have guessed that makeup might contribute to making us fat? A new report in Environmental Science and Technology Letters gives us pause. The authors find that chemicals known as PFAS are present in more than half of a sample of 231 cosmetics they tested. PFAS is short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They’ve earned the label forever chemicals because they are so persistent in the environment. They can disrupt endocrine function and thus contribute to the risk of obesity.

While these compounds are common in makeup, product labels give no hint of their presence. There’s no disclosure that these chemicals are there.

PFAS in CosmeticsFoundations, Mascara, and Lipstick

Heather Whitehead and colleagues tested their sample of cosmetics in the U.S. and Canada for the presence of these substances. They tested the eight categories of products. Of those categories, foundations, mascara, and lip products were the ones that most often had higher total fluorine levels. The authors wrote:

“These compounds are precursors to PFCAs that are known to be harmful. The ingredient lists of most products tested did not disclose the presence of fluorinated compounds exposing a gap in U.S. and Canadian labeling laws. The manufacture, use, and disposal of cosmetics containing PFAS are all potential opportunities for health and ecosystem harm. Given their direct exposure routes into people, better regulation is needed to limit the widespread use of PFAS in cosmetics.”

The Importance of Endocrine Disruptors

Obesity is a disease of endocrine dysfunction. This fact runs counter to the prevailing bias that it’s mainly a problem of behavior. But the truth is that our bodies totally control how and where we store energy in fat tissue. Our endocrine system is what regulates this – not conscious choices. Endocrine disrupting chemicals – PFAS compounds are a prime example – earned their name because they can alter this delicate balancing act. These chemicals are lipophilic, so the body stores them in fat tissue. Thus, they can persist in the body for a long time and exert cumulative effects. In a recent review, Giovanna Muscogiuri et al explain:

“The ability of obesogens to increase fat deposition results in an increased capacity for their own retention due to their lipophilic properties; thus prolonging the exposure and increasing the detrimental metabolic consequences.”

PFAS in Obesity and Related Diseases

Weipeng Qi and colleagues recently reviewed the evidence linking PFAS to obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. They found a substantial literature of epidemiology to support the association of these chemicals with increased risk for obesity and diabetes. Research on PFAS and fatty liver disease was scant by comparison. They concluded that the link to diabetes and obesity is clear, but we need more research to fully understand the relationship.

Change Coming

The safety of cosmetic ingredients is largely a matter of industry regulating itself. Says chemist Perry Romanowski:

“The cosmetics industry isn’t interested in poisoning people. Those that are added on purpose have been tested and determined to be safe by the cosmetics ingredients review board.”

FDA does not require premarket safety testing or registration of ingredients. But the industry may be moving away from using PFAS ingredients. L’Oréal, for example, began phasing out PFAS from its products in 2018. The company expects to have them gone in two years.

Linda Birnbaum, a former director of NIEHS, says this can’t happen fast enough:

“Given the persistence of these chemicals they should only be used where absolutely essential. And that’s not waterproof lipstick or mascara.”

Click here to read the Whitehead study, here for the Qi review of PFAS in metabolic diseases, and here for the review by Muscogiuri et al. For further reporting on PFAS in cosmetics, click here and here.

Nu à sa toilette, painting by André Lhote / WikiArt

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August 12, 2021

One Response to “Is Makeup Making Us Fat?”

  1. August 13, 2021 at 8:47 am, Allen Browne said:

    Who knew we all have brown fat and our energy regulatory system can turn it on and off? And now the ways obesogenic agents get into our bodies and disrupt the energy regulation system is being elucidated. We are making progress.