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Beauty products can be more toxic for women of color — it's time to change that

I know women of color like me are more exposed to toxic chemicals in beauty products. As someone who’s working to make these products safer, I see reasons for hope.

How can beauty products harm women of color?

These products often contain more toxic ingredients, particularly hormone disruptors such as parabens and phthalates, than products marketed to white women.

These are the same types of chemicals that have been measured at higher levels in the bodies of women of color and have been linked to reproductive disorders, such as fibroids and early onset puberty.
And because of a difference in the number of personal care products used daily — black women on average purchase nine times more beauty products than white women — the potential harm of these toxic ingredients is multiplied.

These are the same types of chemicals that have been measured at higher levels in the bodies of women of color and have been linked to reproductive disorders, such as fibroids and early onset puberty — disorders where racial and ethnic disparities are notable.

Getting closer to a toxic-free marketplace

If we look at the marketplace as a whole, today at least eight major U.S. retailers, including Target, CVS, Sephora and Amazon, have public chemicals policies to eliminate toxic chemicals, such as parabens and phthalates, from beauty and personal care products in their stores.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, led the way in 2013 with the groundbreaking chemicals policy EDF helped the company develop.

Among the leading retailers, common themes are moving us toward safer products:

  • Recognition that personal care products are one source of our exposure to harmful chemicals and that retailers can play a critical role to drive safer products to the market.
  • A focus on chemicals that have been linked to reproductive disorders and cancer.
  • Demands that brands stop hiding the presence of harmful chemicals by increasing ingredient transparency to consumers.

Recent improvements may not benefit all of us

As a leader of EDF's fight to eliminate toxic chemicals from the marketplace, I'm hopeful about the transformation we're beginning to see now.

However, part of me wonders if the retailer commitments will truly benefit consumers like me, a black American.

At least eight major U.S. retailers ... have public chemicals policies to eliminate toxic chemicals, such as parabens and phthalates, from beauty and personal care products in their stores.

Because, although claims such as "paraben-free" and "phthalate-free" are starting to appear for some beauty products, they’re not showing up as often in products marketed to people of color, such as products for curly, coily hair or dark skin tones.

Making sure changes happen across the beauty aisle

We should applaud the growing number of safer product commitments from retailers. But we need to ensure improvements happen across the entire beauty aisle, especially where the need is greatest, and not just for products marketed to white women.

What would positive change look like?

Retailers would report progress against their chemicals policies every year and publish which chemicals have been eliminated from products.

They’d also make clear on their shelves and online the safer products available to the millions of consumers of color, like me.

Beauty should not cost us our health. We need beauty justice.

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