BCIT and SAPPHO: A Collaboration of Science and Clean Beauty

  Disclaimer: This blog post is my understanding, as a beauty brand founder who is not a scientist, of the subject of organic fluorine and PFAS as it relates to our cosmetic business, to this day.


_PFAS_dead canary  in a cage with a miners light - canary in the coal mine No more

We are not your typical beauty company. At SAPPHO New Paradigm Cosmetics, we prioritize people with profits, and we believe in complete transparency with our PFAS numbers. This blog post is part a series that documents our journey as a small brand, as we create products that are good for our world.

For too long, women have been the ones to suffer from harmful chemicals in their products, which is why we are committed to telling the truth about what goes into our cosmetics.

With the advent of organic fluorine testing, we now have a scientifically measurable way to describe what "clean" really means for beauty.


Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dubbed forever chemicals, are a group of human-made chemicals manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. These chemicals are persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is growing evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health including cancer, liver damage, infertility, obesity, sexual developmental deformities in baby boys, diabetes, asthma and more. 

Cosmetics are one way that PFAS, if they are present, can get absorbed into the skin, mouth or eyes, but even if not, would be washed off into our environment – neither scenario being preferable.

There are under 200 PFAS that have been studied however there are 14,000 made in the world.

Testing for Organic fluorine will inform us of the presence of any of these 14,000 chemicals, all of which have the same basic structure.


BCIT Burnaby campus 

In the late fall of 2022, after sending product, packaging and ingredients to a lab in the United States to get tested for Organic fluorine, we reached out to Dr. Deirdre Lynch, Ph.D., Instructor, Chemical and Environmental Technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

Dr. Lynch was someone with whom we had consulted in the past regarding environmental issues with packaging etc. I asked if there was any way we could work with the school on the subject of PFAS.

Backtracking a bit, we learned about PFAS via a blog by mamavation.com. We reached out to the scientists involved in the cited study and subsequently did the standard PFAS testing (looks for 90-120 of them) available to us in Canada but then we found out about testing for the presence of any of the 14,000 PFAS via Organic fluorine testing.


SAPPHO's Essential Foundation, Mascara and Concealer have all tested <10 ppm for Organic fluorine (PFAS), however, not everything we tested did as well. Since we had to send everything to the States, the costs were adding up.

SAPPHO PFAS free makeup products including foundation, concealer and refilalble mascara


We recognized that we needed to have testing in Canada, and that is another reason why this project is so important. This project goes far beyond SAPPHO's needs: it will hopefully pave a way so that Canadian personal care suppliers, manufacturers and brands from skincare to dental floss manufacturing, or any other goods potentially plagued by hormone-disrupting PFAS, will be able to test for Organic fluorine, here in Canada.

In December, Dr. Lynch got back and had three superstar chemistry students excited to take on the project. We met in early January, and went over some of the basic whys and wherefores, as well some products and ingredients we were seeking feedback on. The students were very prepared, had clearly done a lot of research over the holidays, and were ready to get to work.  

The American lab we had been working have been very helpful by sharing non-proprietary information. A few weeks ago, the young scientists, having weighed all the possibilities, presented their proposal to their professors and the project was approved. We have included below part of the accepted proposal.


BCIT Chemistry professor Dr. Deirdre Lynch and her three students working on PFAS testing for cosmetics and beyond

Please meet Dr. Deirdre Lynch and Chemical and Environmental Technology second year students: Kristel Fajalongo, Frances Skulj and Maria Narro Madrigal, scientists who are working to develop processes that have the potential to change our world for the better, maybe even save lives.

Below are excerpts from the students' presentation, highlighting how the team at BCIT is working with SAPPHO to learn more about testing for organic fluorine and PFAS.


Bioaccumulation: You are being exposed to PFAS faster than you are eliminating them from your body, so they keep building up.

Biomagnification: PFAS move up through the food chain. Imagine there are PFAS in the water. A plant is exposed to PFAS through it and starts accumulating them. A cow drinks that same water and also eats the plant, so now they are accumulating both the PFAS from the water and the plants. Then we eat the cow and consequently eat the PFAS from the plants, the cow, and we are also drinking it from the water.

As mentioned earlier, we are exposed to PFAS faster than we are eliminating them. Through makeup, we know women wear makeup almost (if not) every day. We can be exposed through inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption. In the case of makeup, we get exposed through our skin, our mouth and tear ducts.

Clean beauty is a movement that aims to increase transparency and to remove harmful ingredients, but not every clean beauty brand is doing this scientifically. There are no regulations as of what do you need to do to claim to be clean. This means that actually being clean is a decision, and it relies solely on the ethics of the company's leadership. SAPPHO's leadership truly aims to have the best ingredients and to report what their products are made of, so consumers can make the decision of what they put in their bodies.


Currently, PFAS are usually tested using LC/MS/MS. This technique can identify individual PFAS. This means that a standard is introduced into the instrument, and if that specific PFA is not present in a sample, the result will be negative. The standards only include around 30 individual PFAS, and there are around 14,000 known PFAS today. This test is the only currently required for regulatory compliance in some products, but not in cosmetics.

The lack of accuracy and scope of the LC/MS/MS technique has created an interest in developing methods that can identify and quantify both known and unknown PFAS, like organic fluorine.

Some methods for testing organic fluorine include Combustion Ion Chromatography (CIC), Particle Induced Gamma Emission (PIGE), and Inductively-Coupled Mass Spectroscopy (ICP-MS). These methods are very expensive and not very commercially available. These tests are not feasible as testing for PFAS is not mandatory and they are too expensive to do just because one wants to (meaning not a lot of brands would sacrifice this amount of money to be ethical). 

BCIT is  researching on how to use Ion Selective Electrode (ISE) to perform this test. ISE is relatively cheap and widely available. By having an easier way of testing for PFAS, brands might start doing it more often. Specially when PFAS are coming from contamination, where they can vary significantly between batches of the same product and should be tested periodically.

In all of these techniques for organic fluorine, it is necessary to separate the organic fluorine from the inorganic fluorine, as only the organic fluorine can be called PFAS. An example of inorganic fluorine in cosmetics is mica where naturally occurring  fluorine is found in its structure wheras  organic fluorine would show up for dimethicone or silicone coated minerals ( found in many 'clean ' brands) . 

MICA might contain fluorine in its chemical formula (as it comes from silica), but that fluorine is locked and may not form PFAS. However, if combusted and tested in a total fluorine test, it will be quantified as PFAS and this could be an overestimation. For now SAPPHO is getting rid of mica until science can ascertain under what conditions, if any, organic fluorine would be leached into the earth or our bodies. 

Follow us along this journey by visiting our blog for more upcoming posts, or by following SAPPHO on Instagram!

Read the blog series: Our Journey to PFAS Free