A new study from George Washington University shows that women of color have more cosmetic toxins—such as formaldehyde, lead, mercury, and parabens—in their bodies than Caucasian women, Daily Mail reports. These harmful chemicals can cause a host of health issues such as infertility and cancer.
According to the researchers, the reason behind the disparity is primarily two-fold: 1) Black, Latina, and Asian-American women use more beauty products than white women so their exposure in increased and 2) products specifically targeted to women of color (skin lightening creams, feminine hygiene products, and hair relaxers) are full of the harmful ingredients.
“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,” Dr. Zota, a GW assistant professor in environmental and occupational health told Daily Mail Online.
Skin lighteners contain kidney-damaging mercury, and even though there are FDA sanctions on the use of the toxic ingredient, these products are still available in the U.S., Mexico and Dominican Republic.
Relaxers can contain estrogen, which can trigger premature reproductive development in young girls and possibly uterine tumors.
Perhaps one of the more surprising areas of the study focused on odor masking feminine hygiene products.
“Advertisers employed targeted marketing towards Black women with messages that encouraged self-consciousness of potential vaginal odors,” Drs Zota and Shamasunder write in the study. “These habits became embedded as a cultural norm, and now persist outside of marketing efforts.”
These fragranced products contain a harmful chemical called DEP, which can cause birth defects.
So what can we do? “Women can empower themselves through education and make some behavior changes to reduce their use of products that may be hazardous to their health,” Dr Zota told GW Today. “They can help advocate for safer cosmetics and more health-protective policies through consumer advocacy. Lastly, they can initiate conversations about beauty norms to help change the upstream factors that are driving product use.”