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Researchers warn of toxic chemicals in beauty products

Commentary suggests minority women are at greatest risk

Environmental health researchers at George Washington University (GW) are cautioning young women to be aware of the chemical make-up of the beauty products they're using.

In a commentary published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, they say many beauty products contain toxic materials that, even with small amounts of exposure, can lead to health problems.

They also say minority women tend to have higher levels of beauty-product-related chemicals in their bodies compared to white women.

“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,” said Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at GW.

'Reproductive harm'

Zota says beauty product use is a critical but underappreciated source of reproductive harm in young women. Zota and Bhavna Shamasunder of the Occidental College in Los Angeles co-authored the commentary.

In their commentary, the authors suggest minority women spend a disproportionate share of the $400 billion the cosmetics and beauty products industry brings in each year. They say women of color tend to purchase products like skin lightening face cream which they say often contains ingredients like topical steroids or the toxic metal mercury.

Beauty products have suddenly come under increased scrutiny. As we reported last week, two environmental groups have sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charging the agency with allowing hair products with "unsafe levels of formaldehyde" to remain on the market.

Hair straightening products

Specifically, the groups point to hair straightening products, primarily used by African American consumers. The groups contend the products pose a threat to both consumers and hair salon employees.

The authors of the commentary say health professionals, particularly those with patients who may become pregnant, can help by counseling their patients about the potential risks associated with some beauty products.

They also say health care providers and researchers should advocate for health protective policies such as improved testing and disclosure.

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