Are Black Women more likely to be exposed to hazardous chemicals?

Like most people up until a few years ago I never read the labels on my cosmetics. I am a bit more label savvy now and am quite careful about the products I use. Here in the EU our labels are  required by law (specifically the EU Cosmetic Directive) to have all the INCI names of the ingredients listed on the packaging. But do you know what those ingredients mean or what they are?

The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, abbreviated INCI are standardised across Europe so that you will see the same ingredients anywhere you travel to, due to free movement of goods in the EU single market. As such ingredients like 'cocos nucifera' which may sound like a scary chemical name are used on the label instead of 'coconut oil', and some manufacturers will choose to use the INCI name as well as the common name to help consumers decipher the label more easily.

A new study published in Environmental Research this week has shown that there is a possibility that black women are more likely to be exposed to hazardous chemicals in their beauty products.

The study focused mainly on products sold in the United States and measured the concentration of endocrine disrupting and asthma associated chemicals in black hair products. Scientists at the Silent Spring Institute measured the concentration of several endocrine disrupting chemicals in 18 hair products in 6 categories used by Black women: hot oil treatment, anti-frizz/polish, leave-in conditioner, root stimulator, hair lotion, and relaxer. Forty-five endocrine disrupting chemicals were detected in the products tested with each product containing 6 - 30 chemicals.

Unlike in the US where cosmetics are tested and regulated very little, EU cosmetic regulations require products to be registered on the cosmetics notification portal and there are very strict rules on how EU cosmetic products are labelled (all product sold in the UK and EU are required to have all the ingredients including any allergens listed).

Unfortunately as the availability and variety of black hair products in the UK is sorely lacking, to get our hands on hair products that many influencers online claim to be the product that will transform your life, we sometimes buy products from the directly from the US, either online or from trips to New York or Florida.  Having a larger market in the US, there are more products for us to pick and choose our favourites from. However ingredient labelling is not as strict in the US.

I have seen recently that a few of US products which are now legally sold in the EU on the high street appeared to have completely changed their formulation but it is probably more likely that in order to be sold in Boots or SuperDrug they have had to change their labelling and include ingredients that they were not previously required to.
"This study is a first step toward uncovering what harmful substances are in products frequently used by Black women, so we can better understand what's driving some of the health issues they're facing." - lead author Jessica Helm, PhD, a scientist at Silent Spring 
For instance, Black women go through puberty at younger ages, and have higher rates of hormone-mediated problems such as pre-term birth, uterine fibroids and infertility than other groups of women. Incidence rates of breast cancer and endometrial cancer among Black women are also increasing.
The most concerning thing about this study was the level of  harmful chemicals found in products for use on children.
"Hair relaxers for children contained regulated or restricted chemicals."
The other thing that occurred to me is that when products are notified on the portal, there are some ingredients that have a minimum amount that is allowed in the product as it is deemed to be safe below certain level as used in 'normal' circumstances. Unfortunately we use our products in very different way to our caucasian counterparts. I know that I use four times as much conditioner as my friends who use several time as much shampoo as I do. So what constitutes 'normal' use?
"The prevalence of parabens and DEP is consistent with higher levels of these compounds in biomonitoring samples from Black women compared with White women."
The researchers also noted that these ingredients are found in other personal products but were found at a higher level in black hair care products. Black women also had higher levels of pthalates and parabens in their bodies compared to caucasian women. "Seventy-two percent of products contained parabens and diethyl phthalate".

The study also asks the question, about the way that ingredients are added to products needs to look at who the products are marketed at and how these products will be used in reality. There is hope that is study will lead to safer black hair products and reduction in the use of these ingredients.

Last December the EU won support for a plan to regulate chemicals which can potentially disrupt the body's hormones - endocrine disruptors. However this could take up to a year to enact -- Source

Find the study here - Science Direct

Hopefully this study will lead to a more in depth look at these issues and make us more aware of what we use in our hair and on our bodies.

Comments below!

Embrace Your Inner AfroDeity

* Measurement of endocrine disrupting and asthma-associated chemicals in hair products used by Black women:





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