Unequal Exposures to Toxic Chemicals

Beautycounter’s mission is to get safer products into the hands of everyone, which is why our advocacy work is so important. Beauty regulations must change in order for all people—regardless of where they shop or what brands they buy—to have access to safer personal-care products. This advocacy work is especially critical when it comes to protecting communities of color.

BIPOC face higher incidence of disease linked to chemical exposure

Research tells an upsetting story: Black, Indigenous,and People of Color (BIPOC) suffer from a higher incidence of chronic disease linked to toxic chemical exposure.[1] While various factors contribute to this statistic, personal-care products play a role and—importantly—create an opportunity for prevention.[2]

One reason for this higher risk is that the hair products, skin lighteners, and nail polishes marketed to this population contain ingredients that are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors.[3][4] A December 2019 study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that women who used hair dye or chemical straighteners were at higher risk of developing breast cancer.[5] This link was notably higher among Black women who regularly use products such as relaxers that contain formaldehyde, a preservative that is linked to certain cancers, and feminine hygiene products which often contain phthalates, a known hormone disruptor. [6]

Another study from UC Berkeley found that when Latinx teenagers switched to clean beauty products, the levels of parabens and phthalates in their bodies dropped significantly within three days.[7]

These findings show us two things: BIPOC have higher exposure to harmful chemicals in personal-care products, and switching to safer products can reduce one’s exposure within a short period of time.

We actively advocate to address racial disparities—and we won’t stop.

Our advocacy for safer products has resulted in tangible steps forward for consumers, especially communities of color. Our efforts so far have included the following:

●    Two laws we helped pass: the Cleaning Products Right to Know Act and the Safer Salon bill protect vulnerable populations like cleaners, hotel workers, and salon professionals by arming them with information to make safer choices. These professions are dominated by women (often women of color) who are exposed to dangerous chemicals for long periods of time in poorly ventilated areas.[8][9]

●   Partnerships with our friends at Black Women for Wellness, a LA-based, leading environmental justice organization, and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, which organizes and advocates for salon workers, a demographic that is composed of predominantly women—a majority of whom are foreign-born, of Vietnamese and Hmong heritage.[10]

●   Holding two high-profile Congressional briefings highlighting the disparate impacts of harmful ingredients for people of color for Members of Congress and their staff. The briefings were sponsored by leaders of the Congressional Hispanic and Black caucuses who recognize the importance of these issues to communities of color.

We believe that access to products without harmful ingredients is a human right. By passing legislation to move the whole market forward, many industry players will be forced to innovate and create safer products for women of color.

Meanwhile, at Beautycounter HQ…

In tandem with our federal reform efforts, we’ve been working hard to offer more clean beauty products for women of color, including 18 new foundation shades and more pigmented blushes, lipsticks, and eye shadows. According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database, fewer than 25 percent of products marketed to Black women score low in potentially hazardous ingredients. We want to change this and we are committed to creating more beauty options for women of color.

We will continue to place environmental justice at the forefront of our advocacy efforts, so Beautycounter can have a meaningful impact on eliminating the gap in racial health disparities. We know we must do more—and this is just the beginning.

[1] Maningding E, Dall’Era M, Trupin L, Murphy LB, Yazdany J. Racial/Ethnic Differences in Prevalence of and Time to Onset of SLE Manifestations: The California Lupus Surveillance Project (CLSP). Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/acr.23887

[2] Adamkiewicz G, Zota AR, Fabian MP, Chahine T, Julien R, Spengler JD, et al. Moving environmental justice indoors: understanding structural influences on residential exposure patterns in low-income communities. Am J Public Health 2011;101(suppl 1): S238–45 www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21836112/

[3] James-Todd, Tamara, African American and African-Caribbean women are more likely to use hair products that contain hormonally active chemicals (placenta, estrogen, endocrine disrupting chemicals), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21626298

[4] Zota, Ami, Women of color are disproportionately affected by environmental toxins such as beauty-product related environmental chemicals. This is independent of socioeconomic status, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28822238

[5] Eberle, Sandler, Taylor, White, Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large US population of black and white women. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ijc.32738

[6] Zota, Ami, Vaginal douching increases exposure to certain phthalates and contributes to the racial disparities in phthalate exposure, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26174070

[7] Harley, Kim et al. Reducing Phthalate, Paraben, and Phenol Exposure From Personal Care Products in Adolescent Girls: Findings From the HERMOSA Intervention Study, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26947464/

[8] Economic Snapshot of the Salon and Spa Industry, Senate Finance Archive, https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Professional%20Beauty%20Association-%202014%20Economic%20Snapshot%20of%20the%20Salon%20Industry.pdf

[9] Nail Files: A Study of Nail Salon Workers and Industry in the United States, UCLA Labor Center, www.labor.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/NAILFILES_FINAL.pdf

[10] Ibid.


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