Beauty and hair products marketed to black women are more likely to contain potentially harmful chemicals and ingredients, according to a new report from a nonprofit environmental research group.
Researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed 1,177 beauty and personal care products marketed to black women and compared the ingredients to a scoring system used for the EWG’s Skin Deep database of over 64,000 personal care products. The database ranks the safety of cosmetics and similar products on a scale of one to 10 (highest hazard), based on a methodology that is outlined here.
Only 25% of the products that the EWG looked at fell into the “low hazard” category, compared to 40% of products that are marketed to the general public. “As a black woman myself, I was disheartened that black women have fewer options for healthier products when they are choosing from products specifically targeted to them,” says co-author Nneka Leiba, deputy director for research at EWG.
The worst-scoring products aimed at black women, according to the report, were hair relaxers and bleaching products, but some lipsticks, concealers and foundations also scored poorly. Many of the hair relaxers and dyes contained lye which is used to break down chemical bonds in hair. Some chemical hair straighteners have been linked to baldness or a higher risk for growths in a woman’s uterus, the researchers point out. Often, hair products contain fragrances which have chemicals that are not always disclosed on product labels. “Even the [products] that market themselves as ‘no lye’ have other ingredients that are also hazardous and could cause chemical burns,” says study co-author Paul Pestano, an EWG senior database analyst.
Some of the health issues associated with the ingredients in the beauty products included hormone disruption, allergies, reproductive damage, and cancer. Some of the ingredients have suspected—but not proven—health effects. “As highlighted in the study, there is far too little research and far too little known about the ingredients in cosmetics,” Professor Philippa Darbre from the University of Readin told CNN.
To pick the personal care products to assess, the report authors spent a year gathering a list of popular products used and sold at retailers and speciality stores catering to black women. They also looked through aisles at pharmacies and other stores that sold products for people of color. “We know black women don’t only purchase products marketed to them,” says Leiba. “But if a black woman wants to choose products marketed for her, she should be able to find healthy products available to her. This is not acceptable.”
Leiba says that people interested in using the EWG database can look up the products they use to see if they contain ingredients they want to avoid.
“I want this report to empower black women,” says Leiba. “These are issues that affect men and women. When consumers become educated they can demand companies change their formulation, or they can choose other companies to purchase from. People can demand companies prioritize their safety.”
You can read more about the report and the various ingredients here. The list of 1,177 products is available here.
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