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Why Women of Color Are Being Exposed to Harmful Chemicals in Beauty Products

New research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology confirms that women of color are being exposed to higher levels of beauty-product-derived chemicals like mercury, steroids and hormone-disruptors than white women, most likely because of racist beauty ideals.

"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," says Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an environmental epidemiologist at the George Washington University.

According to the report, Black, Latina and Asian-American women spend more on beauty products than the national average, often because "mass distribution of images that idealize whiteness." Black women, for example, are twice as likely to feel workplace pressure to practice hair straightening than white women, which in turn increases the likelihood of exposure to toxic substances.

"Many of the hair relaxers and dyes are multi-step products that increase the chance of being exposed to hazardous chemicals," adds Paul Pestano, an Environmental Working Group analyst. "Some of the hair lotions and styling gels contain ingredients of concern like parabens, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and 'fragrance.'" Straighteners and relaxers are often laced with estrogen, which has been linked to premature reproductive development and uterine tumors.