Black Women Are Exposed to More Chemicals in Personal Care Products

A young black woman with bleached hair looks into her mirrored bathroom cabinet.

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Not only do Black women buy more personal care products than other ethnic groups, but those products are also more toxic.

Black women buy more cosmetics and personal care products than any other ethnic group in the United States. They are responsible for an estimated 22 percent of the country’s $42-billion-a-year personal care products market, despite being less than 7 percent of the national population. (Total Black American population is around 13.4 percent.)

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), this is problematic because most of the cosmetics and hair care products aimed at Black women contain more toxic ingredients than those manufactured for other ethnic groups. This means that Black women experience a disproportionately high level of exposure to chemicals.

The EWG manages the Skin Deep® cosmetics database, a well-respected online source for assessing the toxicity of personal care products. It conducted an analysis on more than 1,000 products marketed toward Black women. It made some shocking discoveries:

“Fewer than one-fourth of the products marketed to Black women scored low in potentially hazardous ingredients, compared to about 40 percent of the items in Skin Deep® marketed to the general public.”
A light skinned black woman curling her hair in the mirror.

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The most popular products that Black women buy relate to hair care — coloring, bleaching, and relaxing. These happen to be the most toxic, with an average product score indicating high hazard. The analysis did not find a single ‘low hazard’ score in the whole hair care category. Chemical hair straighteners have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including baldness, uterine growths, premature birth, and low infant birth rate.

“Laboratory tests on some products commonly used by Black women, including hair and skin lotions, conditioners and creams, showed estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity, meaning that they mimicked the effects of the hormone estrogen. Other studies have found that Black Americans had higher urinary concentrations of parabens, the hormone-disrupting chemicals commonly used as preservatives in personal care products, pharmaceuticals and foods.

While these findings relate to a specific demographic, they are relevant to all people who purchase personal care products. The fact is that the industry is largely unregulated, and the regulations that do exist have not been updated since the 1930s, which is appalling.

Until that happens, purchase wisely, relying on the Skin Deep® database to research thoroughly. The EWG currently has a list of about 500 products specifically aimed at Black women, and it plans to expand that list considerably in the near future.

View Article Sources
  1. Pestano, Paul, et al. "Big Market for Black Cosmetics, But Less-Hazardous Choices Limited." Environmental Working Group (EWG).

  2. "QuickFacts United States: Population estimates, July 1, 2019, (V2019)." United States Census Bureau.

  3. Myers, Sharon L., et al. “Estrogenic and Anti-Estrogenic Activity of off-the-Shelf Hair and Skin Care Products.” Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 25, no. 3, May 2015, pp. 271–77., doi:10.1038/jes.2014.32

  4. Smith, Kristen W., et al. “Predictors and Variability of Urinary Paraben Concentrations in Men and Women, Including before and during Pregnancy.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 120, no. 11, Nov. 2012, pp. 1538–43., doi:10.1289/ehp.1104614

  5. Faber, Scott. "80 Years Later, Cosmetics Chemicals Still Unregulated." Environmental Working Group (EWG).