Skin Exposure to ‘Forever Chemicals’ Highlights Growing Health Concerns

PFAS, which include thousands of synthetic chemicals used to repel grease, water, and heat, are notorious for their persistence in the environment and the human body. While it has been established that these chemicals can be ingested through contaminated food and water or inhaled from polluted air, it was previously believed that PFAS could not penetrate the skin barrier.

This latest research, led by Professor Stuart Harrad of the University of Birmingham, contradicts that belief. By studying the skin absorption of PFAS in human skin models, the team demonstrated that certain PFAS compounds are indeed capable of crossing the skin barrier and entering the bloodstream. Notably, shorter carbon-chained PFAS compounds showed higher absorption rates than their longer-chained counterparts. For instance, Perfluoro-n-pentanoic acid (PFPeA), a five-carbon chain compound, was found to have nearly 60% absorption from skin to blood.

The study also highlights specific everyday products as potential sources of exposure. Waterproof cosmetics, such as mascara and long-wear lipsticks, along with water-repellent clothing and hand sanitizers, are pointed out as items likely to contain PFAS. The implications are considerable, given these products make direct contact with the skin and are used daily by millions.

Graham Peaslee, a physics professor at the University of Notre Dame, further explains that the type of PFAS, the amount of product used, and the product’s concentration all influence how much of these chemicals are absorbed through the skin. He underscores that areas of thin skin, such as the neck, groin, and underarms, are particularly susceptible to higher absorption rates.

This discovery comes on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) setting its first-ever limits on PFAS in drinking water earlier this year. The regulation reflects growing concerns about the health risks associated with these chemicals, which include several types of cancer, infertility, and immune system disruptions.

As the body of evidence grows, the call for regulatory actions and consumer awareness becomes louder. Researchers like Harrad advocate for increased vigilance and recommend that consumers seek out PFAS-free products to mitigate exposure.

This study not only broadens our understanding of PFAS exposure but also stresses the urgent need for comprehensive policies to address the widespread use of these hazardous substances in consumer products.

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