A new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests that women
of color are using more beauty products containing potentially hazardous
chemicals than other consumers.
The EWG’s Skin Deep database — which allows users to search
products that are rated on a toxicity scale from one to 10 — has
added 1,177 personal-care products marketed to black women. And while
the percentage of “high hazard” products is about the same
as the general public, fewer than 25 percent of products for black women
scored low (or “safer”) on the scale, as compared with 40
percent marketed to the general public. This suggests that there’s
less choice for black women, who may be buying more chemically laden products.
And while African-Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population,
their spending accounts for as much as 22 percent of the $42 billion personal-care
products industry, according to the report, which also suggests that black
women buy and use more products with potentially harmful ingredients than
Americans as a whole.
In categories of hair relaxers, hair color, lipstick, concealer, foundation,
and sun-protective makeup, none of the products analyzed scored as “low
hazard,” according to the report. And the worst of the worst are
all in the hair product category — relaxers, dyes, and bleachers
all had average rankings at the highest risk.
The report comes as no surprise, says Ni’Kita Wilson, cosmetic chemist
and founder of Skinects V-VI, a beauty resource for women of color. “Everyone
is aware of the hazards of relaxers — chemical burns are real!”
she tells Yahoo Beauty. “At the end of the day, it seems to come
down to fragrance, retinyl palmitate (a derivative of vitamin A), and
preservatives, along with highly irritating products like relaxers and
hair dye — this report reveals the obvious,” she adds.
Scientific testing on products marketed to black women has also been lacking;
most of what exists has focused mainly on the two chemical hair-straightening
groups of products known as relaxers and texturizers, which contain ingredients
like lye that break down chemical bonds in hair so locks can be reshaped.
Advocacy groups cite studies linking chemical straighteners to baldness
and increased risk of noncancerous growths in the uterus; and among pregnant
women, premature birth and low infant birth weight.
Among other products like face creams, body lotions, and hair conditioners
marketed to black women, the report says many show potentially harmful
ingredients that mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen. While this
is a common issue cited for the general population as well on the database,
the EWG report points to studies that show African-Americans had higher
urinary concentrations of parabens than the general population. According
to the EWG, parabens are the potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals
often used as preservatives in personal-care products. Again, this suggests
that women of color are disproportionally exposed.
In response to the bigger social issue of the higher exposure rates of
African-Americans to chemicals, from beauty products to food and the environment,
organizations like Black Women for Wellness, West Harlem Environmental
Action, and Women’s Voices for the Earth have recently launched
as both advocates and consumer resources.
Originally featured on Yahoo Beauty