Beauty products for black women contain tons more harmful ingredients

Beauty products for black women contain tons more harmful ingredients

It’s no secret that for too long now, the beauty industry has been focused on creating products for a certain type of woman: she’s white, probably blonde, with porcelain skin. Think about it: how often do you see skin-coloured bra straps for women with darker skin? How about something as basic as darker band-aids? The last time you checked, what was the ratio between foundations for light skin and dark skin on the shelves of your local drug store?

But even when we like to think the retailers are making progress and finally expanding their ranges to provide for women of colour, all too often we find that they haven’t. Just this week, Kim Kardashian's new KKW concealer line was called out for failing to provide an adequate selection of shades to match darker skin tones; while the campaign for the new product features women with a range of skin tones, most of the actual products themselves seem to be targeted at lighter skin. And now, we’re finding out that most manufacturers are not only failing to provide the shades, but failing to provide the safety standards, too.

A woman having makeup applied Credit: Pexels/ Gumzito Leruo

A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigated 177 beauty products marketed specifically at women with darker skin tones. Comprising of everything from body washes to lipsticks to hair relaxants, it submitted a list of their ingredients to their database, which ranks the safety on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most dangerous. Worryingly, just 25 per cent were recorded as being “low hazard” - about half the number of light skin products it would expect to register as safe.

Backing up these results, a separate study published in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017 also found that women of colour also have higher levels of beauty-related chemicals in their body, when compared with white women. Blaming the promotion of traditional Western European beauty standards by the media, the study's authors say that in particular hair products such as straighteners and relaxers contain high levels of estrogen that can cause early reproductive development and even uterine tumours.

Unsurprisingly, hair relaxants also fared among some of the world offenders in the EWG study, with an average score of above eight out of 10; a score of seven to ten is considered highly hazardous. It was also noted that none of the “lipsticks, and concealers, foundations and sun-protective makeup, none of the products analyzed were scored as 'low hazard',” going on to warn that: “Potential hazards linked to product ingredients include cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive damage, allergies and other adverse health effects.” Among those tested were products from the Black Opal range, as well as popular brands IMAN, and B.L.A.C Minerals. 

As if all of this isn’t bad enough, research has also found that in the US, black, Asian and Latina women actually spend more on beauty than their white counterparts, with African-American women alone dolling out over $7.5billion annually, according to market insights company Nielsen. Let that sink in for a second: these are women spending more money, for less range, only to be exposed to more toxic ingredients. Hardly fair, is it?

Compared to years ago, it’s true that we’ve come a long way. Advocacy groups such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have succeeded in pressing congress to introduce measures such as the Safe Cosmetics Act, which was written to eliminate chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems from everyday products. At the same time, many retailers have taken steps to ensure the products that they stock do not contain harmful ingredients. But the fact remains that as a country, the US has one of the least regulated beauty industries in the world, with manufacturers entitled to use all sorts of grizzly ingredients that are banned in other countries. Up until a customer makes an official complaint about a product, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will not review products or put them through testing - instead, it is up to the goodwill and the honourable word of the drug manufacturers.  

Despite KKW’s failure to be inclusive, it is true to say that over the last few years, the market for beauty products for darker skin has grown exponentially. Brands such as Rihanna’s “Fenty”, which comes with the tagline “A New Generation of Beauty” while promising to deliver "inclusion for all women” are leading the way, while some more established brands such as NARS have become more widely known for having an extensive product line. But while this is a step in the right direction, surely it's about time that an industry that makes billions off of the insecurity of women can do so without poisoning them too?