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‘Forever chemical’ PFAS banned from cosmetics – Expert Reaction

The EPA is banning the use of per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances in cosmetic products from the end of 2026.

These “forever chemicals” are difficult to break down and can build up in the body and the environment over time. The EPA says New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to take this step on PFAS.

The SMC asked experts to comment. Feel free to use these comments in your reporting or follow up with the contact details provided.

The SMC also gathered comments in March 2023 when the ban was proposed.

Professor Allan Blackman, School of Science, Auckland University of Technology, comments:

“As signalled by the EPA last year, a ban on PFAS in cosmetics will be implemented such that import and manufacture of cosmetics containing PFAS will cease at the end of 2026 and supply of these will stop at the end of 2027.

“In concert with this, the definition of exactly what is meant by the term PFAS has been altered to align with that used by the EU, which does appear to be a sensible move.

“Given that, according to the decision document, no New Zealand cosmetics manufacturers who were surveyed use PFAS in their products, the ruling will have no effect on them. However, the fact that around 90% of cosmetics are imported (not all of which contain PFAS, of course) could lead to significant compliance requirements for those involved in their importation, and indeed the disappearance of certain products from shelves post 2027.

“Having taken this first step, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens to other PFAS sources such as non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Abhishek Gautam, Senior Scientist-Risk Assessor, ESR, comments:

“The ban on intentional use of PFAS/forever chemicals in cosmetics is one of the crucial decisions to mitigate human health risks due to their potential long-term toxicity. However, these chemicals are ubiquitous in nature and therefore they should be regularly monitored in cosmetics to check for any non-compliance.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Lokesh Padhye, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Melanie Kah, Associate Professor, School of Environment, University of Auckland; University of Auckland; and Erin Leitao, Senior Lecturer, School of Chemical Sciences, University of Auckland, comment:

“We need to applaud the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for its proactive decision to ban the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in cosmetic products starting from December 31, 2026. This significant move positions New Zealand as one of the pioneers globally in addressing the risks associated with PFAS, often referred to as ‘forever chemicals.’

“The decision is particularly commendable as PFAS, commonly found in products like nail polish, shaving cream, foundation, lipstick, and mascara, can have adverse effects on both consumers and the environment due to their persistence, potential bioaccumulation, and toxicity at elevated levels.

“The EPA’s adoption of a precautionary approach aligns with a forward-thinking strategy, propelling New Zealand toward the ambitious – yet worthy – goal of a PFAS-free environment. Following the transparent process, including public consultation, NZ EPA is proposing active collaboration with the industry. This engagement is pivotal to ensuring the seamless and effective implementation of these crucial measures, ultimately contributing to a safer and more sustainable consumer product landscape in New Zealand.

“However, more can be done towards a PFAS-free market. Let’s not forget that PFAS are still incorporated in a vast range of everyday products, from rain jackets to non-stick frying pans. We hope the NZ EPA will continue with their forward-thinking strategy and consider banning PFAS from other sectors where they are deemed non-essential.”

No conflict of interest declared.