New Zealand to ban PFAS in cosmetics; how do they damage health? | Health - Hindustan Times

New Zealand to ban PFAS in cosmetics; what are 'forever chemicals' and how do they damage health?

By, New Delhi
Jan 31, 2024 07:09 PM IST

New Zealand is one of the first countries to ban PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ from December 31, 2026. Know all about their adverse effects on human health.

New Zealand has announced it is banning PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) or forever chemicals in cosmetic products from December 31, 2026; it is one of the first countries to do so in a move aimed at protecting consumers and environment. Used in cosmetic products like nail polish, shaving cream, foundation, lipstick, and mascara, PFAS are added to smooth the skin, or to make cosmetic products more durable, spreadable and water resistant. These chemicals don’t break down easily and can build up in the bodies and can be highly toxic. According to Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), banning the chemicals in cosmetics is part of the ongoing response, which includes phasing out all PFAS-firefighting foams and testing for background levels of PFAS in the New Zealand environment. (Also read | Toxins in everyday life: Types, their effects and where they are found)

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are 'forever chemicals' known for their persistence in the environment. Know how they are damaging your health(Freepik)
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are 'forever chemicals' known for their persistence in the environment. Know how they are damaging your health(Freepik)

What are PFAS?

"PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are 'forever chemicals' known for their persistence in the environment. Linked to cancers, birth defects, and immune system issues, these substances pose very serious health risks. They accumulate in the body over time, raising concerns about long-term exposure. To protect against PFAS, it's vital to understand their presence in everyday products, like cosmetics, and support initiatives like New Zealand's ban. Adopting stringent regulations and testing for PFAS levels in the environment are crucial steps. By doing so, we safeguard public health and create a precedent for collective action, emphasizing the importance of comprehensive measures in combating the adverse effects of these persistent substances," says Dr Nidhin Mohan, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru.

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large, complex group of 15000 synthetic chemicals that have been used in consumer products around the world since about the 1950s.

"They are used to make heat, oil, stains, grease, and water Fluoropolymer coatings in a variety of products such clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and the insulation of electrical wire. Many PFAs do not break down in the environment and can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources and accumulate in fish and wildlife," says Dr Tushar Tayal, Consultant, Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.

Is there any difference between PFAS and forever chemicals?

"Forever chemicals is another name for PFAs and these chemicals are everywhere —from our nonstick cookware to our waterproof clothes, and smartphones. The chemicals are even in our drinking water and bloodstreams," says Dr Tayal.

Ill effects of PFAS on human health

People are most likely exposed to these chemicals by consuming PFAS-contaminated water or food, using products made with PFAS, or breathing air containing PFAS. Dr Tayal shares adverse effects of these chemicals on human health.

Research on PFAS toxicity suggests associations between increases in exposure to (specific) PFAS and certain health effects:

  • Increase in cholesterol levels
  • Lower antibody response to some vaccines
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia
  • Small decreases in birth weight
  • Kidney and testicular cancer

How to prevent PFAS exposure?

"Until the government and the health agencies worldwide do a thorough research and accordingly ban the offending agents, the responsibility of our health lies with us. We can proactively avoid using plastic containers to store food and use steel cookware instead non-stick cookware. Water should also be stored in glass or steel bottles instead of plastic bottles. Also use cloth bags instead of plastic bags," says Dr Tayal.

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