New Zealand has become one of the first countries in the world to prohibit the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) - often described as 'forever chemicals' - in cosmetic products.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) announced the decision on Tuesday, with the ban to come into effect from December 31, 2026.

PFAS are a group of about 10,000 synthetic chemicals used for their non-stick and detergent properties. These chemicals - some of which are already banned in New Zealand - can be used in cosmetics such as nail polish, shaving cream, foundation, lipstick and mascara to make the products more durable, spreadable or water-resistant, said hazardous substances reassessments manager Dr Shaun Presow.

"We know these chemicals don't easily break down, they can build up in our bodies, and some can be toxic at high levels," Dr Presow said on Tuesday.

"International research suggests PFAS are only found in a small number of products, but we take a precautionary approach to potential risks from PFAS. Banning these chemicals in cosmetics is part of our ongoing response, which includes phasing out all PFAS-firefighting foams and testing for background levels of PFAS in the New Zealand environment."

The decision is one of 25 changes that have been made to the Cosmetic Products Group Standard 2020, which details how the EPA regulates cosmetic products. The changes will ensure cosmetics available in New Zealand are safer for consumers and that the rules better align with international developments, Dr Presow added. 

"We've also strengthened the regulations so non-hazardous cosmetic products that contain a hazardous ingredient are now regulated. This makes it easier for us to enforce the rules around banned and restricted ingredients that may be found in these products."

From December 31, 2026, cosmetic products containing PFAS will be banned from being imported or manufactured in New Zealand. From December 31, 2027, cosmetic products containing PFAS can no longer be sold or supplied in New Zealand, and by June 30, 2028, all cosmetic products containing PFAS must be disposed of.

The EPA publicly consulted on the rule changes in 2023 and received 20 submissions, including 14 from the cosmetics industry.

"The feedback from our consultation was particularly important for us to better understand how widespread PFAS use is in cosmetics and was supportive of the changes. We will continue to engage with industry to manage the transition before PFAS are banned and the other changes take effect," Dr Presow said.

According to the decision document, no New Zealand cosmetics manufacturers who were surveyed by the EPA currently use PFAS in their products; however, the decision will impact international brands, which make up around 90 percent of cosmetics in the country.

"Given that, according to the decision document, no New Zealand cosmetics manufacturers who were surveyed use PFAS in their products, the ruling will have no effect on them," Professor Allan Blackman from Auckland University of Technology's School of Science said following the announcement.

"However, the fact that around 90 percent of cosmetics are imported (not all of which contain PFAS, of course) could lead to significant compliance requirements for those involved in their importation, and indeed the disappearance of certain products from shelves post-2027."

Professor Blackman acknowledged the decision was "a sensible move". 

"The definition of exactly what is meant by the term PFAS has been altered to align with that used by the EU, which does appear to be a sensible move," he said. "Having taken this first step, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens to other PFAS sources such as non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics."

Abhishek Gautam, a senior scientist-risk assessor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), also hailed the step as a crucial decision "to mitigate human health risks" due to PFAS' potential long-term toxicity.

"However, these chemicals are ubiquitous in nature and therefore they should be regularly monitored in cosmetics to check for any non-compliance," he added.

Commenting on the decision, University of Auckland environmental and chemical sciences professors Melanie Kah, Lokesh Padhye and Erin Leitao noted that the move positions New Zealand as one of the pioneers addressing the risks associated with PFAS.

"The decision is particularly commendable as PFAS can have adverse effects on both consumers and the environment due to their persistence, potential bioaccumulation, and toxicity at elevated levels," the professors said in a joint statement.

"The EPA's adoption of a precautionary approach aligns with a forward-thinking strategy, propelling New Zealand toward the ambitious - yet worthy - goal of a PFAS-free environment.  

"However, more can be done towards a PFAS-free market. Let's not forget that PFAS are still incorporated in a vast range of everyday products, from rain jackets to non-stick frying pans. We hope the NZ EPA will continue with their forward-thinking strategy and consider banning PFAS from other sectors where they are deemed non-essential."

In September 2022, the US state of California became the first major jurisdiction to ban all PFAS in cosmetics, with a transitional period for enforcement after January 1, 2025.

The full details on the changes can be read here.

2024-01-30T05:00:27Z dg43tfdfdgfd