More beauty products marketed to black women are toxic, study finds

Many beauty products marketed to black women contain high levels of toxic chemicals.
Many beauty products marketed to black women contain high levels of toxic chemicals.

Black women may be exposed to a higher amount of hazardous chemicals in hair and beauty products specifically marketed to them, a new study has found.

An analysis of more than 1,000 hair and beauty products found that black women have much fewer options for safe products than those marketed to the general public. According to Environmental Working Group, black women seem to buy and use more personal care products than the public at large, so even though they only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 22 percent of the $42 billion spent each year on health and beauty items.

Hazardous products can carry such health risks as cancer, allergies, hormone disruption and developmental and reproductive damage.

EWG maintains a database of personal care products ranked based upon the ingredients used and how toxic the chemicals are to humans. An analysis of 1,177 products marketed to black women found that one in 12 was “highly hazardous.” This is roughly equivalent to the percentage of overall products that are highly hazardous.

“The disparity in products scored as ‘low hazard’ suggests that there may be a narrower range of choices for safer-scoring products specifically marketed to black women,” EWG found.

Fewer than 25 percent of the products marketed to black women were found to have a low concentration of potentially hazardous ingredients. The worst-scoring products for black women were hair relaxer, coloring and bleaching products. Hair relaxers and texturizers typically contain harsh ingredients like lye, which alter the chemical bonds in hair. Even products without lye were found to be toxic.

“But the analysis showed that these treatments still score highly for potential harm since they contain other hazardous ingredients such as parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives,” the study found. “In fact, even calcium hydroxide, the chemical that replaces lye in the ‘no-lye’ relaxers, is a caustic irritant.”

EWG’s entire database contains 64,000 products, listing ingredients and safety hazards so consumers know what chemicals are in the care items they use.