By Anne Beal, MD, MPH
Your skin is the largest organ in your body. While it is designed to keep bacteria, dirt and other invaders out, the chemicals in products you massage into your skin can be absorbed into your body. When those chemicals affect your health, it’s time to consider taking a cleaner approach to the products you use.
Clean Beauty is a term used to describe products made without ingredients that have negative health effects. It is not the same as “organic”, “all-natural” or “plant-based”. Clean beauty specifically refers to using ingredients (both natural and man-made) that are safe, non-toxic and do not cause harm.
Four reasons why clean beauty is important for Black women:
- Over 75% of products marketed to Black women have ingredients classified as toxic. This compares to 60% of products for the general population that include questionable ingredients like parabens. According to the Environmental Working Group, toxic ingredients found in products marketed to Black women include sodium hydroxide and formaldehyde found in our haircare products and hydroquinone, a bleaching skin lightening chemical used in many products marketed to women with deeper tones.
- Black women have higher levels of parabens. Parabens are used as preservatives in many different products and are absorbed through the skin. Studies show that Black and Latin women have paraben levels 4-8 times higher than the general population. In addition, our newborn babies also have higher levels of parabens as a result of their mothers’ exposure.
- Black women, fibroids and breast cancer. Parabens act like estrogen and are concentrated in estrogen sensitive tumors. Black women have more uterine fibroids and more aggressive types of breast cancer. Anything that mimics estrogen should be avoided by women with these tumors.
- Black women use a lot of personal care products. No one is surprised to hear that Black women spend a lot on haircare products. But we also spend a lot on skincare – in fact, we spend twice as much on skincare as the general population. This means we are more exposed to the chemicals used in personal care products and need to pay attention to the ingredients in our products.
Are you interested in using cleaner products for your personal care routine? Here’s how to get started:
Read your labels. Carefully review the labels of any products you choose for yourself and your family. It may feel like you need a degree in chemistry to read some labels, but you can use the Skin Deep Database developed by the Environmental Working Group to look up the safety ratings for ingredients and products to see what’s safe. When looking for parabens, they come in many different formulations (e.g., methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben).
Shop globally for non-toxic products. If possible, look for products made in Europe. The manufacturing standards there are higher than in the US because European manufacturers must prove ingredients are safe, while in the US ingredients aren’t banned until research proves the ingredient is dangerous. This creates a wide gap in evidence for safety and is why over 1,100 ingredients are banned in Europe, while only 11 ingredients are banned in the US.
Look for products committed to clean beauty. You can always select brands with a stated commitment to clean beauty – like AbsoluteJOI Skincare – and look for guidance on how they define clean beauty. While not everyone agrees on all the ingredients considered safe, most clean beauty brands are making a genuine effort to take a healthy approach to their product formulas and are working to inform their customers on the importance of clean beauty.
When I started AbsoluteJOI Skincare, I was focused on skin health and wanted to make high quality products to share with my friends and family. But when I discovered that over 75% of products marketed to Black women are made with toxic ingredients that can affect our health, I decided to make non-toxic, clean beauty for Black women my brand mission.
Women use a lot of skincare products and our brand is playing a small role in promoting clean beauty and raising awareness of the need to avoid certain ingredients. However, the biggest impact will come when Black women flex our power as consumers and refuse to spend our dollars on products that make us sick. When we demand the products made for us be safe, that’s when personal care manufacturers will prioritize making clean beauty products for Black women.
About Dr. Beal
Dr. Beal has spent decades working to improve health for communities of color. After researching the illnesses with a disproportionate impact on communities of color, she now finds herself focused on preventing those illnesses. Dr. Beal never expected that her skincare junkie habit would become part of her work, but she is now creating products designed to address the needs of melanin-rich skin that are made with the safest, high quality ingredients for healthy skin.
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