MIL-OSI Global says PFAS, “forever chemicals”, can be absorbed by the human skin.

Source: UK By Oddny Ragnarsdottir PhD Candidate in Environmental Chemistry at the University of Birmingham


These synthetic chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS), have been found everywhere. From the Arctic Ice with its polar bears and penguin colonies to Tasmanian penguin colonies. They’ve even been found in rainfall and ocean spray. The persistent chemicals were found in the blood of people from all over the globe, and in the breast milk. Our team has found them even in dust from , the International Space Station.

We still don’t know how PFAS enters our bodies. Ingestion (food, water, and other products containing PFAS), or breathing air contaminated by PFAS particles are possible pathways. Recent research indicates that PFAS can penetrate the skin of humans and enter their bloodstream.

Many consumer products contain PFAS, such as skin care products cosmetics, and clothing that is waterproof. The compounds are sometimes referred to by the term “forever chemicals”, due to their persistent nature in nature, and in our bodies where they can remain for years.

Dermal exposure, or the absorption of PFAS via the skin, could be a significant pathway for PFAS to enter the body. Our team of environmental scientists used 3D-models of lab-grown skin tissue that mimicked the properties of human skin to investigate the dermal permeation of 17 different chemicals.

Our results show that, contrary to previous beliefs, the skin can act as a barrier.

Experiments on 3D models of lab grown human skin tissue were conducted to mimic the properties and characteristics of real human skin.

Oddny Ragnarsdottir, CC BY-ND

These chemicals can have a negative impact on our health once they are in the body. Some PFAS can disrupt hormone systems, and lower the immune response of children to vaccinations against diseases like diptheria. lower birth weights of newborns, and changes in the liver function are also concerning. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently classified one PFAS, perfluorooctanoic Acid or PFOA, as “carcinogenic for humans”.

In response, many Studies focused on quantifying the human exposure to PFAS. The most recent Research revealed that diet and drinking water are important routes of exposure.

In our study, 17 PFAS were selected that are already regulated in drinking waters. Our results shed light on the human exposure to 17 specific chemicals, but it is difficult to extrapolate these findings to other PFAS compounds because they have different properties and behaviors.

Short v long

Our results revealed that short-chained PFAS containing fewer carbon molecules were more readily absorbed through the skin. By the end of a 36-hour period of exposure, 58% of an applied dose of perfluoropentanoic (a PFAS containing five carbon molecules) had been absorbed. For the PFOA, the chemical with the highest level of regulation (which contains eight carbons), 13% of the dose applied had penetrated the skin in the same period.

The skin permeation of the PFASs included in our study also took a while to occur. As these compounds are present in everyday products, frequent exposure to them could result in significant exposure .

Previously, it was hypothesized that the PFASs we tested would absorb minimally under the conditions of our skin’s surface. Our study shows this is not true, since for eight of those tested PFASs, over 5% of their applied dose could fully penetrate through the skin and into the bloodstream. A substantial portion of the applied dose was found in the skin, which represents a reservoir for PFAS.

Our study allows us to better understand the importance of skin exposure to PFAS and which chemical structures are most readily absorbed. It is important to note that the industry has shifted towards chemicals with shorter chains because they are thought to be less toxic and less persistent.

The trade-off is that these shorter-chain PFAS are easier to transport through the skin barrier. Before releasing PFAS-containing product on the market, manufacturers and regulators must be certain of the risks.

Oddny Ragnarsdottir has received funding under the Marie Sklodowska Curies grant agreement no 860665, (PERFORCE3 Innovative Training Network) from the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme of the European Union.

Mohammed Abdallah is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Sklodowska Curia grant agreement no 860665, (PERFORCE3 Innovative Network).

Stuart Harrad has received funding under the Marie Sklodowska Curies grant agreement no 860665, (PERFORCE3 Innovative Network) from the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme of the European Union.

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MILOSI – Global Reports