Black Women Are Exposed To More Toxic Chemicals In Beauty Products Than White Women
A new study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has found that “compared with white women, women of color have higher levels of beauty product–related environmental chemicals in their bodies.” This finding, though startling on its own, isn’t a result of the reason you may think — companies intentionally including more harsh chemicals in products geared toward women of color. Actually, it’s Eurocentric beauty standards that are to blame.
“Pressure to meet Western standards of beauty means Black, Latina and Asian American women are using more beauty products and thus are exposed to higher levels of chemicals known to be harmful to health,” Ami Zota, ScD, MS, co-author of the study, and an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, said in a news release. “Beauty product use is a critical but underappreciated source of reproductive harm and environmental injustice.”
It’s for that reason that the obstetrics-gynecology community has issued a call to action “to prevent toxic environmental chemical exposures and their threats to healthy human reproduction.” According to The Cut, “The researchers’ warning comes on the heels of the Environmental Working Group’s December report finding that 1 in 12 beauty products marketed to black women contain harmful ingredients. The report noted that less than 25 percent of items marketed for black beauty pose a minimal threat to women — compared to 40 percent of beauty products marketed for the general public.”
Specific products of concern include skin lightening face creams which Zota said often contain hidden ingredients such as topical steroids or the toxic metal mercury. And though many Black women have embraced natural hair, plenty still use chemical relaxers which have been shown to contain “placenta (a potential source of estrogen hormones), and industrial chemicals, such as parabens that affect estrogenic pathways.” the study noted. This has resulted in premature reproductive development in young girls, including earlier menarche and breast-budding, and uterine fibroid tumors in women, who are particularly at risk between the ages of 18 and 34.
Referencing a 2016 study done by Zota and colleagues, it was also noted that douching products are heavily marketed to Black women along with messages of uncleanliness. And “in a national sample of reproductive age women, those who reported douching frequently, had 150 percent higher exposures to a harmful chemical known as DEP. This chemical, often found in fragranced beauty products, may cause birth defects in babies and has also been linked to health problems in women,” the release noted.
“For women who live in already polluted neighborhoods, beauty product chemicals may add to their overall burden of exposures to toxic chemicals, Bhavna Shamasunder, as assistant professor in the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College, said. “Certain racial/ethnic groups may be systematically and disproportionately exposed to chemicals in beauty products since factors such as institutionalized racism can influence product use.”
Thankfully, more women of color are making their own products and purchasing natural beauty aids rather than mainstream products which might make them look good today but pose real threats to their health down the line.