know about The safest beauty products aren’t reaching everyone. We need clean beauty justice.
When you think of harmful chemicals, you might imagine a hazardous waste site or water pollution. But toxic chemicals also lurk in the food we eat and the products we use every day.
The topic of toxic chemicals in products, namely beauty and personal care products, is particularly personal to me. I grew up receiving hair straightening treatments, starting at the age of 12.
I didn’t know then that this routine was putting my health at risk: beauty and personal care products are often marketed to women of color contain more toxic chemicals than those marketed to white women.
What these ingredients do to our body
- in a studyLatina women who used skin lightening creams had mercury levels up to 30 times higher in their bodies.
- Levels of diethyl phthalate, a common fragrance ingredient, and methyl paraben, a preservative, are 1.8 times and two times higher in African Americans, respectively.
- Ingredients in some hair care products commonly used by black women, such as hair lotions, leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, and hair oil, have been found to contain ingredients that disrupt hormonal activity.
- There is a 40% increased risk of early onset periods, an indicator of increased risk of breast cancer, for women who used hair oils or hair perm treatments as children.
The color of your skin or the texture of your hair should not put you at higher risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.
Draw attention to what beauty justice means
The inequity of toxic beauty has gone unnoticed for far too long, which is why educators, community advocates, and beauty influencers are speaking out.
Public health researchers are expanding the body of knowledge about the links between certain toxic chemical exposures and disease, as well as the root causes.
For example, one recently published article explains how a person’s exposure to toxic chemicals through personal care products can be driven by where they live, where they work, and cultural norms.
Organizations like the Resilient Sisterhood Project are help black women understand reproductive diseases that disproportionately affect them, links to chemical exposures, and opportunities for action. And beauty influencers are leveraging their platforms to raise awareness among beauty enthusiasts.
But to achieve justice in beauty, we need lawmakers and businesses to respond to this pressure and drive real change in the beauty industry.
‘Clean beauty’ efforts neglect women of color
The law regulating the safety of cosmetic products in the US has not had a major update since 1938.
Efforts to overhaul cosmetics safety legislation continue, but in this vacuum, some companies such as Credo, Sephora and Target have pledged to sell beauty products free of harmful ingredients and with a smaller environmental footprint, publicly known as “clean beauty”
While these efforts are definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to cleaning up the beauty aisle, they are not inclusive: Most clean beauty products currently target wealthy white women, although women of color bear the brunt of toxic exposure in beauty products.
This is what companies can do right now
Ending this toxic reality requires brands and retailers to put racial equity front and center in their clean beauty efforts.
Companies can and should ensure that their “clean” claims describe beauty and personal care products made with the safest possible ingredients and having the lowest possible environmental impact that the market can offer today.
And they must ensure that clean products are available, accessible and affordable to all customers, regardless of race.
Companies can do this by ensuring their chemical policies target common products marketed to women of color for faster safety improvements and more ingredient transparency, educating their suppliers on how to create safer products, and directing retailers and marks to safest ingredients.
Beauty should not cost us our health. We need clean beauty justice.
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