Women of colour exposed to higher levels of toxic ingredients in cosmetics

By Sarah Parsons | 17-Aug-2017

According to research from George Washington University, mercury and other potentially harmful ingredients are found in cosmetics products commonly marketed to African American, Latina and Asian women

Cosmetics marketed to women of colour contain higher levels of potentially toxic ingredients, such as mercury and steroids, according to research from George Washington University and Occidental College.

Findings published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that even small exposures to suspected toxic chemicals can lead to health problems, such as premature reproductive development in young girls, neurodevelopmental issues and cancer.

Scientists noted that ingredients from skin lightening creams and other products used to conform to a ‘European standard of beauty’ were particularly high risk.

According to the research, some skin lightening face creams contain hidden ingredients such as topical steroids, hydroquinone or the toxic metal mercury.

Although the FDA sets a maximum level of one ppm of mercury in skin products, consumers (particularly Dominican and Mexican American women) are still using unregulated lightening cosmetics in the US.

Hair health problems

Women of colour exposed to higher levels of toxic ingredients in cosmetics

Hair relaxers and straighteners may contain estrogen, which can trigger premature reproductive development in children and uterine tumours.

A survey revealed that risk of exposure often begins at an early age, as almost 50% of parents/guardians of African American girls reported that chemical relaxers were first applied to their child’s hair between 4 and 8 years-old.

"Beauty product use is a critical but underappreciated source of reproductive harm and environmental injustice,” said Ami Zota, Assistant Professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.

"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."

Zota pointed out that Black, Latina and Asian-American women spend more on beauty products than the national average, due to advertising pressures that elevate European beauty.

The report added that Black women ‘suffer more anxiety’ about having ‘bad hair’ and are twice as likely to experience social pressure to straighten their hair.

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