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June 22, 2021

What you need to know about PFAS

A recent study on Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics revealed that the manufacture, use and disposal of cosmetics containing PFAS was potentially harmful for human health and the environment.

Dubbed “forever chemicals”, PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a potentially toxic class of chemicals that are commonly found in industrial products such as firefighting foam and in household objects like food wrappers, coated fabrics, carpets, non-stick pans, but also in cosmetics.

Teflon, in our make-up? The idea may appear incongruous, yet PFAS have been used by some cosmetic brands to increase product durability, spreadability, skin absorption, texture enhancement and also heat and water resistance.

At first glance, it may look like an easy formulation solution that ticks a few boxes at once and a convenient shortcut that eliminates a few steps in the making of a product. But the persistence and durability that make PFAS attractive at first sight is also what makes them potentially harmful.

Strongly persistent, PFAS don’t break down easily in the environment or in the body. Highly mobile, they contaminate soil, water and any products derived from them.

The fast mobility of the toxicity increases indirect harmful exposure to humans, animals and plants. Exposure to PFAS is linked to cancer, liver disease, hormonal disruptions, reproductive and developmental issues. When applied to the skin (as an ingredient in cosmetics) on highly absorbent areas such as lips and the eye area, the exposure to PFAS is immediate.

In fact, the health concern is so great that in the United States, politicians are now calling for better regulations to limit dangerous exposure with the "No PFAS in Cosmetics Act" introduced in the US House and Senate on Tuesday.

In Europe, where laws around cosmetics (ingredients, manufacturing, use and disposal) are a lot tighter than anywhere else in the world, debates on safety are also raging.

At Aleph, we have been eagerly following discussions and studies on the topic to better understand how it affects our lives in New Zealand. The Ministry for the Environment and the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) routinely investigate PFAS exposure but, like in many other places in the world, the regulations around cosmetics safety still lag behind, which is why it is important to be well informed about the product we buy and use. And to choose brands we can truly trust.

How do we know if a product contains PFAS?

Reading a product’s ingredient list, like a food label is a good start. At Aleph, we list all our ingredients very clearly and if you want to know more, we even dedicate a page on our website for you to learn more about the ingredients in your favourite products here.

When choosing a product, whether cosmetics or not, be wary of any ingredient with “fluoro” in the name. Fluorine is a key marker for PFAS and it is its high incidence (52%) in 231 cosmetic products tested in the above study that raised alarm bells.

It is especially used in foundations, waterproof and long-lasting mascaras, concealers, in long-hold lipsticks and long-wearing sunscreens. While not all products labelled as long-hold, long-wearing contain PFAS, they are usually more prone to feature fluorinated compounds so always check the label before use.

To put your mind at ease, Aleph stays clear of all PFAS. The long-lasting benefits of our products are courtesy of high-quality, safe ingredients.

Are PFAS really needed in cosmetics?

Absolutely not.

There are plenty of ways to bypass PFAS and yet obtain the same durability, spreadability and resistance in a product. Consciously choosing plant-based or naturally-occurring chemicals is one of them.

Choosing innovative ways to formulate in a clean, transparent manner is another good option. At Aleph, we thoroughly assess every ingredient before use to ensure we always improve wellbeing and environment as well as how we look.

We favour ingredients with eco-certifications, such as Cosmos and Ecocert, and where these aren’t applicable, we choose 100% natural ingredients. We are not fans of shortcuts that shortchange health and the ecosystem. It may take a longer time for us to launch products but we are confident in their safety and benefits.

How concerned should we be?

While reading about PFAS concerns can be overwhelming at first, we believe that raising the alarm is actually a sign of good news to come. The gap between regulations and exposure risk needs to be bridged fast so people live a healthier, safer life.

Most existing regulations date back to the 1960s and before and don’t account for the formidable technological and scientific advances since, so bringing the conversation to the forefront is very productive. We can’t change what we don’t know. Alarming studies also help us to better understand what goes into our products and give us a chance to make informed, conscious choices.

Our founder Emma has been challenging the transparency around cosmetics for years and this is why at Aleph, we are happy to see our priorities and focus becoming more mainstream at long last.

“I created Aleph because as a make-up artist but also personally, I wanted to know that the products I use on people’s skin and mine are people, planet and animal friendly. I made those the filters through which we make all of our decisions for the brand so assessing every ingredient we use has always been a priority and I feel happy that we are ahead of the current discussions on this particularly important topic, as well as many others when it comes to health and safety in cosmetics”.

Everything we do at Aleph stems from a consciously considered, well informed decision.

We believe that everyone deserves to feel and look good and we do this by creating products that support the wellbeing of our body, mind, planet and animals.

It is no easy task to create real goodness and it requires a lot of tenacity, knowledge and creativity. We spend a considerable amount of time researching and assessing ingredients that not only do no harm, but continue to nourish the skin over time. To create truly skincare-infused makeup.

We relentlessly investigate ways of producing cosmetics that align with our core values of wellbeing and respect for our environment and animals. We take the time to do our due diligence, and vet all our potential and existing partners extensively so we know that when a product hits the shelf, it complies with our high standards for quality, safety and efficacy.

That’s why Aleph values complete transparency of ingredients. So you can be sure what you are putting on (and in) your body, first; does no harm, and second; is good for you too.

Clean Makeup, Clear Conscience, this is the new norm.