An analysis of hair and beauty products marketed to Black women found that approximately 1,177 products contain more potentially harmful ingredients than products promoted to the general public.
Last week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington-based nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental organization specializing in research and advocacy, released the report “Big Market For Black Cosmetics, But Less-Hazardous Choices Limited.”
An author of the report, Deputy Director of Research at EWG Nneka Leiba, said products specifically targeted toward Black women are less healthy.
“As a Black woman myself, I was disheartened that Black women have fewer options for healthier products when they are choosing from products specifically targeted to them,” she told TIME magazine.
Leiba and co-authors of the report — Paul Pestano, senior database analyst, and Brit’ny Hawkins, EWG consultant — state that about one in 12 of the 1,177 products tested was ranked highly hazardous on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database scoring system, which now rates more than 64,000 products.
The cosmetic database compares product ingredients to more than 60 toxicity and regulatory databases and scientific studies. Products are rated from 1 (lowest hazard) to 10 (highest hazard).
The EWR report indicates that less than 25 percent of the products marketed to Black women scored low in potentially hazardous ingredients, compared to about 40 percent of the items in the Skin Deep Database, which are marketed to the general public.
The report states:
“The percentage of products scored as ‘high hazard’ was about the same for both market segments, but the disparity in products scored as ‘low hazard’ suggests that there may be a narrower range of choices for safer-scoring products specifically marketed to Black women.”
None of the products marketed to Black women received a “low hazard” score in the categories of hair relaxers, hair colors and bleaching products, lipsticks, concealers, foundations and sun-protective makeup.
Potential hazards linked to product ingredients include cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive damage, allergies and other adverse health effects.
Products with the highest potential hazard are hair colors, bleaching products and hair relaxers. The 15 hair relaxers evaluated scored an average of 8.1. For example, Organics by Africa’s Best Touch Up Plus Organic Conditioning Relaxer System received a 10 (highest hazard). It is indicated the product is likely to perpetuate allergies and immunotoxicity.
The authors state, “We assess the ingredients listed on the labels of personal care products based on data in toxicity and regulatory databases, government and health agency assessments and the open scientific literature.”
Prior research has also indicated the chemical hazards of hair relaxers. The American Journal of Epidemiology released a study in 2012, “Hair Relaxer Use and Risk of Uterine Leiomyomata in African-American Women,” which linked the product to uterine fibroids, as well as early puberty in young girls.
From 1997 to 2009, researchers followed 23,580 premenopausal African American women. They assessed that chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns resulting from relaxers may have resulted in a two- to three-times higher rate of fibroids among Black women.
Straight Hair in the Workplace
Hair texture has no connection to talent or ability. Yet some companies negatively judge Black women on the basis of their choice of a natural hairstyle.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Black people have been overlooked for promotions because of natural hair or darker skin color,” DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti wrote in a column “Ask the White Guy: Do Blacks Need to Relax Their Natural Hair to Get Promoted.”
“Companies that manage past bias and hire, mentor and promote equitably have better talent. They are also better prepared for the future as our country becomes more diverse.”
Joan Smalls, a biracial Puerto Rican supermodel who has walked the Victoria’s Secret runway, revealed during a panel on diversity and inclusiveness on December 3 that she has a hard time booking hair campaigns.
“I’ve been an option, but they dropped me last minute, and the excuse was, ‘We were afraid to try something new,’ and by ‘new,’ they mean, ‘We never shot a Black girl,’” Smalls said.
In September, in a 3-0 decision, the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Catastrophe Management Solutions’, an insurance claims processing company in Alabama, decision not to hire Chastity Jones, a Black woman, because she has dreadlocks. The court asserted that it’s legal for companies to refuse employment based on hairstyles.
Lissiah Taylor Hundley, diversity and inclusion strategist for Cox Enterprises (No. 18 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), commented on the fact that many Black women are embracing natural hairstyles in lieu of chemical straightening, regardless of company culture.
“As we’ve come to appreciate our diverse beauty and the unique kinks and curls of our hair, some of us have embraced our natural hairstyles and wear locs and braids with pride and appreciation for our heritage and love of our hair texture,” Hundley told DiversityInc.
Food and Drug Administration
Before most cosmetics and ingredients are sold, they don’t need approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to CNN:
“Products ‘must be safe for consumers under labeled or customary conditions of use, and they must be properly labeled,’ the [FDA] said. ‘Companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. However, the law does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information, including adverse events.’”
Black consumers account for as much as 22 percent of the personal care products market, according to the report. However, thorough information on the hazards of products hasn’t been available until now.
“We received emails asking for products targeting Black women” to be included in the Skin Deep Database, said Pestano, co-author of the report.
The Environmental Working Group was founded in 1993. It specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, public lands, toxic chemicals and corporate accountability. Ken Cook is the president and co-founder.
EWG’s 18-person board of directors includes prominent physicians, policy experts, environmental activists, attorneys and executives, as well as members of the entertainment industry, such as actress Michelle Pfeiffer.
Read about all of the products reviewed in “Big Market For Black Cosmetics, But Less-Hazardous Choices Limited.”