PFAS and the Need For Supply Chain Transparency

PFAS in beauty products and the need for supply chain transparency

When I started Axiology, I deeply believed there was a need for a truly ethical beauty brand. One that doesn’t cause harm to humans, animals or the environment—and one that is transparent with its customers.

Upholding our ethical standards isn’t always easy, and Axiology and clean beauty brands in general have faced our fair share of obstacles. The industry’s latest challenge is keeping PFAS from contaminating our products.

A recent study found PFAS (toxic, bioaccumulating chemicals) hiding in some of the beauty industry’s most popular makeup products. Finding PFAS in products such as waterproof mascara and long-lasting lipstick is not surprising — PFAS are intentionally added to these products; what is surprising is finding this class of chemicals in beauty products where PFAS are not intentionally added and therefore not even mentioned. 

But how could PFAS be in makeup products where they aren’t intentionally added?

That’s a great question, and one that folks like us in the clean beauty industry are now looking into. What we’re learning is that there are two ways PFAS can make their way into a clean beauty product (unbeknownst to the company): 

Accidental Contamination

1) The first is what Axiology calls “accidental contamination”: Because PFAS are everywhere — we’re talking rain water, breast milk, coatings on manufacturing equipment, literally the air — they may end up in the final product. For example, if a supplier uses PFAS-coated equipment (i.e. “nonstick”) to process Kokum butter, the chemical could potentially contaminate the final ingredient. Rectifying this issue requires lengthy conversations with vendors and suppliers along the supply chain (we’re already on it).

Undisclosed Contamination

2) The second, and more problematic, way PFAS can sneak into clean beauty products is what Axiology calls “undisclosed contamination”: Due to the fact that the beauty industry is massively under-regulated, not all ingredients have to be disclosed to beauty brands and/or consumers thanks to what the FDA calls “incidental ingredients”. These are secondary ingredients that appear at “insignificant levels,” having been added to process, preserve, or stabilize the main ingredient being purchased by a beauty company. You can find more of an explanation of “incidental ingredients” here, but the short of it is that a supplier a step or two removed can intentionally add PFAS to, say, mica, and that same mica can be sold to a beauty company without disclosing the PFAS addition. Not cool.

Changing the loose regulations around “incidental ingredients” is what Axiology and other ethical brands in the clean beauty space are now fighting for.

Many conventional beauty companies aren’t concerned by this or talking about the recent study because they’re not trying to keep harmful ingredients out of their products in the first place. But avoiding PFAS and other harmful chemicals is one of the reasons the clean beauty industry came into existence, so you better believe we’ll be talking about it and taking action.

So how do we take action?

What we need moving forward to ensure that clean beauty products, including Axiology’s, are as clean as possible, is supply chain transparency. In other words, if an ingredient supplier is adding PFAS to enhance an ingredient’s performance, it must be declared at the final sale. 

The beauty industry is notoriously under-regulated, which is why we work closely with retailers like Credo who are meticulous about keeping harmful ingredients out of any products they carry. We are also taking action pertaining specifically to regulating PFAS and other undisclosed harmful chemicals by joining Beauty Counter in demanding that congress create more stringent regulations in supply chain transparency. Here is the letter that has been sent to Capitol Hill.

This is an issue that affects people, animals and the environment, so it’s an issue we at Axiology care deeply about. If you’d like to join us in advocating for stricter regulations and supply chain transparency, text BANPFAS to 52886.

More about PFAS

What exactly are PFAS?

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic, bioaccumulating “forever chemicals,” which means that they don’t go away, ever. They just build up everywhere and in everything, including the human body. 

Why do manufacturers use PFAS?

PFAS increase the durability, stain-resistance, and water-resistance of a given item. For this reason, PFAS have been used for decades in pretty much every industry you can think of: Cooking and bakeware (from Teflon pans to nonstick muffin tins and foil), carpeting and textiles, outdoor gear (jackets, tents, you name it), and—yes—some cosmetics products, too. PFAS are everywhere.

What is Axiology doing about PFAS?

TESTING.

This summer, we sent products for  testing to a globally recognized, accredited, third-party testing lab recommended by authors of the PFAS study. Though the problem of PFAS contamination in beauty is brand new and testing is not standardized, the lab we chose followed methods considered to be best practice and in-line with academic labs. Our products earned a “no-PFAS-detected” result. 

LOOKING HARDER.

With that said, we’re aware that an independent blogger sent one of our products to a different lab that used a different testing method and found PFAS. As a clean beauty community, we are still investigating the reason for this testing discrepancy. In the meantime, we are further examining our own supply chain (a constant exercise) to ensure no accidental or undisclosed PFAS contamination. The safety of our products is our #1 priority.

LEARNING.

We participated in the Credo Beauty Brand Summit on PFAS with the very authors of this study to learn everything we can about the problem and the best steps we can take.

DEMANDING SUPPLY CHAIN TRANSPARENCY.

We will continue to do our due diligence by having conversations with our suppliers and assessing every touchpoint in our supply chain. We have also signed onto a letter to Capitol Hill demanding federal regulation of PFAS and improved supply chain transparency.

What should clean beauty customers do about PFAS?

There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding unwanted PFAS in beauty products. While we work hard to figure it out, our best recommendation is to stick to your clean beauty brands. PFAS are just the latest class of chemicals in a looooooong line (literally more than a thousand) of unwanted toxic chemicals in cosmetics, and green & clean brands are those who've been at the forefront of eliminating those for years. Battling PFAS is no different.

Some good resources are shopping from retailers like Credo that have begun requesting that brands spot test lip and mascara products for PFAS. You can also ask your favorite brands what they’re doing about the potential for PFAS contamination. We're real people behind the scenes here and we care about our people (and animals!). 

While these latest findings that PFAS are everywhere is not great news, we’re grateful the study was performed and that we are now aware that it’s something to actively work against to uphold our commitment to healthy products for all. 

"When you know better, do better." -Maya Angelou

-Ericka Rodrguez, Axiology Founder