Investigation Shows That Beauty Products Marketed Towards African Americans Pose More Health Risks

For African American women, the beauty options available that cater to their particular hair, makeup and skin care needs are limited. Despite the growing number of beauty brands and companies that market personal care products specifically to millions of Americans with darker skin tones (African Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population), the beauty industry still has a long way to go. Now, a new study has found that African American beauty consumers have more to worry about then just a lack of options.

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According to research released by the Environmental Working Group, ingredients found in one of every 12 beauty products marketed to African American women were deemed “highly hazardous” and may be harmful to their health. The organization examined more than 1,100 beauty products marketed to black women and found that one in 12 contained ingredients linked to potential health risks like reproductive issues, hormone disruption, allergies and cancer.

Less than 25 percent of the products made and marketed for African American women were scored by the organization as “low hazard,” which was an alarmingly low number compared to the 40 percent of products marketed to the general public. The worst offenders on the list were hair relaxers, bleaching products and hair dyes. Many lipsticks, concealers, foundations and sun-protective makeup were also scored as "high hazard."

Because of the lack of options in personal care products, researchers believe that black women are more likely to be exposed to these harmful chemicals. "If a black woman is choosing products marketed to their demographic, they have fewer healthier options," said Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research for the EWG.  For instance, formaldehyde is a cancer causing chemical and can be found in products for all markets, but more so in products created for women of color. "There are formaldehyde releasers in hair dyes," Leiba said, but “there are less products without them [for African American women].”

Popular brands included in the report include Shea Moisture, IMAN Cosmetics, L’Oréal, CoverGirl and Miss Jessie’s. The group’s entire report, which contains the full list of products details the safety and potential harms of the ingredients, can be found here.

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