As dialogues sparked by the natural hair movement continue, a new focus has been turned to the health and safety of black hair and beauty products. Researchers and independent advocacy groups are among those working to ensure the safety of personal care products marketed to black women.
According to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), black beauty products are much more likely to include harmful ingredients.
The report, which broke down an analysis of 1,177 different beauty and personal care products that are marketed to black women, found that one in twelve of those products have ingredients that could be considered unsafe. EWG’s research also revealed that 25 percent of black beauty products pose a low threat,compared to 40 percent of beauty items marketed to the general public. Considering that African-Americans account for 22% of the $42 billion a year spent on personal care in the United States, while making up 13% of the population, findings like these are alarming.
The report also found:
Fewer than one-fourth of the products marketed to Black women scored low in potentially hazardous ingredients, compared to about 40 percent of the items in Skin Deep® marketed to the general public. 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.
Potential hazards linked to product ingredients include cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive damage, allergies and other adverse health effects.
The worst-scoring products marketed to Black women were hair relaxers, and hair colors and bleaching products. Each of these categories had an average product score indicating high potential hazard.
In the categories of hair relaxers, hair colors and bleaching products, lipsticks, and concealers, foundations and sun-protective makeup, none of the products analyzed were scored as “low hazard.”
Some of EWG’s findings, however, have come under scrutiny. As The Cut points out, the group’s report identifies retinyl palmitate as a carcinogen, a claim that that Skin Cancer Foundation disagrees with.
EWG isn’t the only group that is taking a deeper look at some of the ingredients in black haircare products.
In 2012, an shocking study that linked the use of relaxers to high instances of uterine fibroids in black women began circulating. And groups like the California nonprofit Black Women for Wellness are working to educate salon workers and patrons about the dangers of chemical exposure. The group found that salon workers, who are frequently exposed to harsh chemicals, have often experienced adverse reactions to many of the products they work with.
While these studies can seem overwhelming and have even come under dispute, doing your own research is also important. Read reports closely, check labels, and search for reviews before making a purchase.