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Scientists confirm toxic 'forever chemicals' enter our blood by being absorbed by the skin

Forever chemicals can enter our bloodstream directly through skin contact, scientists confirm.
Forever chemicals can enter our bloodstream directly through skin contact, scientists confirm. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Gabriela Galvin
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PFAS, known as forever chemicals, can make their way into the bloodstream through skin contact, according to new research.


Forever chemicals can permeate human skin, according to a new study that comes as European Union regulators weigh a ban on the toxic substances.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down naturally and can be found in common industrial and consumer products such as cosmetics, hand sanitizers, and clothing. 

PFAS can also cause serious health problems, such as cancer, liver damage, poorer immune system response, and low birth weight.

In the study, researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK tested 17 different compounds that correspond with chemicals regulated by the EU’s drinking water law. 

Experimenting on 3D human skin equivalent models, which mimic the properties of skin and are used to test hazardous industrial chemicals, they found significant absorption for 15 of the 17 substances.

While it is accepted that PFAS enter the body by being inhaled or ingested, the findings, published in the journal Environment International, shed new light on how forever chemicals make their way into the bloodstream through the skin.

Basile Ghesquiere, a senior policy and advocacy officer on health and chemicals at the non-profit Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), told Euronews Health that understanding PFAS exposure routes could help policymakers determine how and where they should be restricted, for example in the textile industry.

'PFAS pollution is everywhere'

"PFAS pollution is everywhere," Ghesquiere said. "You need to know how people are exposed to be able to regulate it properly".

The study also found that chemicals with shorter chain length were more easily absorbed than long-chain compounds – which is notable given the industry has shifted towards short-chain PFAS based on the belief that they are less toxic, researchers said.

Because these substances are so pervasive, the researchers said future studies should focus on the health risks of exposure to a broad range of PFAS, rather than focusing on one compound at a time.

Previous studies have shown that people frequently breathe in and ingest forever chemicals. In Europe, for example, an estimated 12.5 million people live in communities with drinking water contaminated with PFAS, according to HEAL. 

In 2023 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified one chemical (PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid) as a human carcinogen.

The European Chemicals Agency is considering a ban on forever chemicals, but the plan has faced intense industry pushback that Ghesquiere said could slow down the regulatory process.

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