Did you know that black women spend more than double the money for beauty products than any other ethnic group? Is it because the products are better? Not at all. Many consumers believe there are more toxic chemicals in ethnic skin and hair care products than our Caucasian counterparts. While the research is inconclusive on the number of toxins comparatively, there are egregious categories within the beauty care products offered for women of color that we can’t ignore.
Let me first say that as a model of color, I can verify that the hair and makeup team used the same products on me as they did anyone else—lead-based lipstick and mercury-filled mascara. So in that instance, I can say we were all equal opportunity targets as canvasses for the toxic chemicals.
But we must look at the fact that some companies market certain products solely to ethnic consumers and pass them off as “safe.” For instance, skin lighteners are geared directly to women of color. These products contain hydroquinone, which is associated with cancer and toxicity of the organs. This chemical is so toxic it’s banned from the European Union and the FDA has proposed a ban for most prescription options. Makes you want to shove it to the back of the shelf, right?
Women of all skin colors should keep skin type in mind, not skin color, when we are choosing the right skin care products. Reading ingredient labels and educating ourselves on each product would benefit us more than making purchases based on the marketing on the bottle. Because while ethnic skin may be more prone to hyperpigmentation and lighter skin may be more prone to rosacea, we all have the same basic needs: gentle cleansing, exfoliating, sun protection, and moisture. In addition, a clean diet and exercise are the building blocks to keep any skin looking healthy and young.
The second offending category is hair care. Major toxic chemicals can be found in hair relaxers which more women of color use than Caucasian women. Studies have shown these toxins to cause hormone imbalance, fibroids, cancer, and early puberty. Since the producers of these harmful ingredients refuse to research a healthier option (if there is one) women of color need to take their dollars elsewhere and do their own research for the sake of their health. And certainly don’t be fooled by any relaxer that claims “organic” on the label. It can include a different set of toxic chemicals linked to brain damage, reproductive health problems including infertility and miscarriages, endocrine disruptors, cancer, and more.
Avoiding the products and treatments altogether is the obvious first choice that would hugely benefit long-term health. Women of color are starting to wear their natural hair and finding it’s fuller with less breakage, which makes for healthier, beautiful hair. However, researching natural options is the next best thing in the quest to remain toxin- free. Regardless of your skin color, if you treat your body well now, it will take care of you in the future.