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Do Anti-Fogging Products Contain Toxic Forever Chemicals?

Anti-fogging sprays and wipes have become popular for people who must wear masks, but some contain PFAs that may be endocrine disruptors.
Do Anti-Fogging Products Contain Toxic Forever Chemicals?
Woman wiping foggy glasses caused by wearing medical mask indoors, closeup

Does your face mask make your glasses fog? That’s a sign that the fit isn’t tight enough to protect you. Perhaps you’d reach for an anti-fogging spray or wipe to help you see clearly. Some health care workers also use them on their protective face shields.

What Is in Anti-Fogging Products?

Researchers at Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment have bad news about anti-fogging compounds. Some sprays contain a high concentration of PFAs, also known as forever chemicals (Environmental Science & Technology, Jan. 5, 2022). That’s because they don’t break down readily.

The specific compounds the scientists found in anti-fogging products are fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) and fluorotelomer ethoxylates (FTEOs). The health effects of these chemicals are unknown because they have not been studied thoroughly. However, the researchers found that they are toxic to some cells. Fat cells incorporate these compounds readily. The investigators now plan to conduct more research to investigate the toxicity of the PFAs found in anti-fogging sprays.

Other Forever Chemicals:

This is not the first time that scientists have voiced concerns about PFAs. Several years ago, scientists detected these forever chemicals in the drinking water of 6 million Americans (Environmental Science & Technology Letters, online Aug 9, 2016). Manufacturers have used the chemicals, including polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl, in clothing, nonstick cookware and food wrappers for six decades. Even those that are no longer in active use persist in the environment and find their way into groundwater. As a result, even people who never use anti-fogging sprays may be exposed to dangerous levels.

What Did the Chemists Find?

The scientists analyzed 36,000 water samples collected by the EPA between 2013 and 2015, looking for six different kinds of PFAS. Unfortunately, however, the study did not include many wells that supply drinking water.

High Levels of PFAS:

In 66 of the public water supplies in the study (each represented by a number of water samples), PFAS levels were at or above 70 parts per trillion. EPA has declared that the safe upper limit for exposure.

In most cases, the drinking water is drawn from sources near military bases, industrial sites or wastewater treatment plants. These may be where the PFAS compounds came from when they got into the water. These agents have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, immune disorders, high cholesterol and hormone disruption.

Learn More:

We discuss PFAs, though not anti-fogging sprays in Show 1212: Should You Worry About Forever Chemicals?  and Show 1251: How Chemicals Are Threatening Our Health and Fertility.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Herkert NJ et al, "Characterization of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances present in commercial anti-fog products and their In Vitro adipogenic activity." Environmental Science & Technology, Jan. 5, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c06990
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