According to an article published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, while most women in the United States are regular users of beauty products, women of color have higher levels of chemicals from these products in their systems than white women. This is a concern since even small amounts of the chemicals pose a risk to health.
Ami R. Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor at George Washington University, and Bhavna Shamasunder, PhD, an assistant professor at Occidental College, performed an analysis on research into the chemicals found in beauty products and discovered that women of color tend to use more beauty products or specific products that contain higher levels of chemicals, including skin-lightening creams, hair relaxers, and feminine care products like scented douches. According to Zota, women use these products to meet Western beauty standards that are displayed in targeted ads.
Research shows that black. Latina, and Asian-American women also spend more on beauty products than the national average, and black women are more likely to feel anxious about their hair and twice as likely to be influenced by social pressure to straighten it. Hair products generally contain estrogen, which can increase the risk of early puberty and even result in uterine tumors, while skin-lightening cream includes topical steroids or mercury. Both of these chemicals can damage a woman’s health. Other chemicals found in beauty products have been linked to toxicity in endocrine, reproductive or developmental systems. These chemical are especially dangerous for women aged 18 to 34.
Zota highlighted the inclusion of formaldehyde, phthalates, parabens, lead, mercury, and triclosan as particularly damaging. Exposure to these substances can lead to disruption in endocrine and hormone levels, cancer, reproductive problems, and for children, neuro-developmental problems from exposure in the womb.
Many people assume that the chemicals in their products have been tested for toxicity before they hit shelves, but Zota points out that this is a misconception. “In most cases, limited safety testing takes place before products are entered onto the market because the cosmetic industry is largely self-regulated,” she says.
Only limited testing for toxicity is conducted before products are available for sale because the cosmetic market is self-regulated. The United States Food and Drub Administration has no requirements for approval of cosmetic products and ingredients before they go on the market. The companies who market the products have legal responsibility to ensure their safety, but the Administration can remove products if it desires.
Women of color are advised to educate themselves about this issue and to become aware that they may be at a higher risk of health damage because of the beauty products they use. They should find out what is actually in the products before buying them. EWB has a product database available online at where women can look up their favorite products to see how dangerous the chemicals they contain are. If a product is flagged in the database, women can choose similar products with less harmful ingredients.