Exposure to beauty-product-related chemicals—and, ultimately, white beauty standards—could be putting women of color at risk for reproductive harm.
According to Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, and Bhavna Shamasunder, an assistant professor in the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College, women of color have higher levels of beauty-product-related chemicals in their bodies compared to white women.
The commentary, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, infers this could be attributed to Black, Latina, and Asian-American women using more beauty products to conform to Western beauty standards, like using skin lightening creams or hair relaxers to achieve white characteristics of beauty. Additionally, marketing efforts for douching products have targeted Black women specifically.
Each of these products contain chemicals that put women at reproductive risk: Skin lighteners have mercury, which could lead to kidney damage and neurotoxicity. Hair relaxers, meanwhile, could cause uterine fibroid tumors, endocrine disruption, and cause girls to start puberty prematurely. And douches, which have long been denounced as more harmful than helpful for vaginal health, also contain chemicals that lead to endocrine disruption, as well as gynecological cancers.
Ultimately, Zota and Shamasunder conclude that responsibility lies on health professional societies to promote improved ingredient testing and disclosure in beauty products. Health scientists can also address these effects by integrating the biological results of beauty products into the “exposome,” or the totality of a person’s environmental exposures from conception to death.
Also, health providers should be aware that these products unfairly target women of color and should inform their clients of the potentially-toxic risks associated with using these products to conform to white standards of beauty.
Read the full commentary on beauty product chemicals and their effect on women of color here.