healthHealth and Medicinehealthhealth

Beauty Products Aimed At Women Of Color Contain Higher Levels Of Dangerous Chemicals


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Although many of the products aren't regulated by authorities, they are still available to consumers. Courtesy of Snapshot.

Researchers have given out a fresh warning that cosmetics and beauty products marketed at people of color have considerably higher quantities of dangerous chemicals, including steroids and heavy metals. So much so, they say that black, Latina, and Asian-American women in the US have notably higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies compared to white women.

Health policy experts from George Washington University and Occidental College recently wrote about the problem in a commentary article published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology


Their research points the finger at beauty products such as hair relaxing creams and face creams that claim to have skin-lightening properties. Some of these products break FDA regulations, yet people can still obtain them “under the counter” or on the Internet throughout the US.

Skin-lightening creams were found to contain hydroquinone (defined as a potential carcinogen by the FDA) or inorganic mercury. Multiple cases of mercury poisoning, characterized by damage to the kidneys and the central nervous system, have even been reported after using skin-lightening products. 

In a study of New York City residents, foreign-born Dominican women were found to have the highest levels of mercury in their urine. In all the groups with high levels of mercury in their system, skin-lightening creams were traced back as a source of exposure. The researchers also cite multiple other cases of mercury poisoning after the use of skin-lightening products.

Some hair relaxers and straighteners were shown to contain placenta and industrial chemicals, such as parabens. These either contain estrogen or affect estrogenic pathways, which can possibly trigger uterine tumors and premature puberty in young girls, something the study notes is documented in African American girls exposed to these hair products from a young age.


“Pressure to meet Western standards of beauty means Black, Latina, and Asian American women are using more beauty products and thus are exposed to higher levels of chemicals known to be harmful to health," Ami Zota, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University, said in a statement.

This issue has been raised before. A report by the Environmental Working Group released last year found that 1 in 12 beauty products marketed towards black women contained “highly hazardous” levels of potentially toxic chemicals.

"For women who live in already polluted neighborhoods, beauty product chemicals may add to their overall burden of exposures to toxic chemicals,” said Bhavna Shamasunder, an assistant professor in the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. "Certain racial/ethnic groups may be systematically and disproportionately exposed to chemicals in beauty products since factors such as institutionalized racism can influence product use."


healthHealth and Medicinehealthhealth
  • tag
  • health,

  • race,

  • cosmetics,

  • culture,

  • asian,

  • Beauty,

  • make up,

  • African American,

  • Latina,

  • toxic chemicals