Beauty Products for Black Women Are Full of Dodgy Ingredients

One in 12 cosmetics marketed to African American women is “highly hazardous,” a new review found.

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A disproportionately high number of hair and beauty products marketed to black women contain potentially harmful ingredients, according to a new investigation by a consumer advocacy and environmental research organization.

It’s up to companies and manufacturers to make sure products are safe—not the FDA.

The Environmental Working Group reviewed more than 1,000 products for black women, including body washes, lipsticks, and hair treatment products. Of these, about 1 in 12 was ranked highly hazardous by the EWG’s scoring system.

The worst-scoring products were bleaching creams, hair coloring treatments, and hair relaxers. Popular products and brands that were analyzed include Miss Jessie’s Baby ButterCreme, Shea Moisture Nourishing, CoverGirl Queen CC Cover + Care Cream and supermodel Iman’s IMAN Cosmetics CC Correct & Cover.

Less than a quarter of all the products analyzed by the EWG scored low in potentially hazardous ingredients—things like hormone-disrupting parabens, chemicals linked to skin cancer, and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives that can increase the risk of skin allergies—in the group’s analysis. By comparison, about 40 percent of health and beauty products targeted to the general public fell into the low-risk category.

Personal care products are not required to undergo a review by the Food and Drug Administration before they hit shelves—instead, it’s up to companies and manufacturers to make sure products are safe. If a customer files a complaint, the FDA can take action, but until that point, the agency can’t step in.

African American women in the United States spend $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, with black households throwing down an average of $94 a year at beauty supply stores. High spending on beauty products and limited options could mean black women are being exposed to more potentially hazardous chemicals than their counterparts of other races. But researchers still don’t have much specific information about the risks that these products carry, said Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research at EWG. “And one of the reasons we don’t know is because of the woefully inadequate regulations that govern this industry.”

You can find a full list of the products analyzed by EWG here.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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