NZ to ban ‘forever chemicals’ in cosmetics

New Zealand is set to become the first country to ban the use of “forever chemicals” in cosmetics starting from 2026, according to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). The ban specifically targets perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are utilized in cosmetics to enhance skin texture, durability, spreadability, and water resistance. PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” due to their indestructible nature, are a class of approximately 14,000 chemicals that are resistant to water, stains, and heat.

PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects, including cancers, birth defects, and immune system issues in both humans and animals. The chemicals have been detected in various environmental sources, such as drinking water, sea foam, rain, and human blood. The ban on PFAS in cosmetics is part of a broader effort by New Zealand to address the potential risks associated with these chemicals. The EPA, which consulted the public on the rule changes in 2023, received 20 submissions, including 14 from the cosmetics industry.

While PFAS were found in a limited number of cosmetic products, the EPA has adopted a precautionary approach to mitigate potential risks. The ban is accompanied by measures to test background levels of PFAS in the environment and phase out PFAS-containing firefighting foams. The EPA will collaborate with the cosmetics industry to manage the transition before the ban takes effect.

Some states in the United States, including California, Maine, and Minnesota, have also taken steps to regulate or ban PFAS in cosmetics. However, New Zealand’s move appears to be a pioneering effort on a national level. The European Union is also working on a broader ban on PFAS.

Environmentalists, health experts, and scientists have commended New Zealand’s initiative, positioning the country as a global leader in addressing PFAS-related risks. Although no PFAS was found in surveyed New Zealand cosmetics, around 90% of cosmetics in the country are imported, raising potential compliance challenges for importers and the possibility of certain products disappearing from shelves after 2027. The ban on PFAS in cosmetics marks an initial step, prompting interest in potential actions regarding other PFAS sources like non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics.

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