I’ve been hearing that the FDA doesn’t properly screen cosmetic products before they are on the market. Which cosmetic products are the most toxic? Who is impacted most by the use of these toxic products?

You’re right! With a few exceptions, manufacturers of cosmetic and other personal care products are not required under current federal law to get FDA approval before their products go on the market. In fact, they aren’t required to test their ingredients for safety, list all of the ingredients in their products, use good manufacturing practices that prevent contamination, or recall products that have been proven to contain toxic ingredients. 

The NWHN considers the prevention of disease to be a central priority. We hope that women can be as educated as possible when it comes to personal care products that have the potential to be harmful or disease inducing. 

While many women are impacted by toxic ingredients in cosmetic products, studies show that Black women and women of color are particularly at risk. In late 2016, our allies at Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) set out to investigate whether some of the biggest beauty, personal care, and cleaning brands were hiding unlabeled toxic ingredients in their products. BCPP hired two independent third-party testing laboratories to do the test. Out of over 20 personal care products tested, they identified a product called Just For Me, a kids’ shampoo made by Strength of Nature as the most hazardous product in the experiment. The shampoo is marketed to Black girls. M. Isabelle Chaudry, Senior Policy Manager at the NWHN says that she grew up using their products, as did many of her friends and members of her family. “I know that many other Black women have as well,” wrote Chaudry in her recent NWHN blog post. In another analysis, one out of every 12 beauty and personal care products marketed to Black women was found to include “highly hazardous” ingredients, a far higher rate than products marketed to the general population. 

At the same time, low- and middle-income women may find it harder to access “clean” beauty and hygiene products free from dangerous ingredients or contamination. Although there is no guarantee that a more expensive product is healthier than a cheaper one, wealthy women may be more readily able to research and purchase non-toxic products. Some high-end cosmetic companies, such as BeautyCounter and Bioessence, specifically market their products as being free of toxic ingredients. But for millions of women, finding affordable, healthy products may feel out of reach. 

As a result, Black women and women with fewer financial means may be more likely to purchase toxic products and develop medical conditions as a result. This is unacceptable, and is likely a factor contributing to health disparities across race lines. Therefore, we need the FDA to regulate cosmetic and personal hygiene products across the board so that all women have access to non-toxic products regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.

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