Although phthalates and ingredients such as bisphenol A (better known as BPA) can be found everywhere, including pots, pans and sofas, some people may be more exposed or at risk than others. Young children, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma are all considered populations vulnerable to chemical exposure, says Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, an environmental epidemiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University.
And the burdens of exposure are not shared equally. If a person lives or works in a polluted environment, it can exacerbate the risks he faces, she says. Due to decades of segregation and discriminatory housing policies, communities of color breathe more polluted air than their white neighbors.
“Unfortunately, it is usually low-income marginalized populations who are already experiencing high exposure to various chemicals,” says Quirós-Alcalá. “Chemicals in beauty products can exacerbate women’s overall burden of exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, particularly among women living in highly polluted communities who may be routinely exposed to chemicals in the workplace.”
National data indicates that, on average, black women face higher levels of chemical exposure to personal care products than white women, she adds. Quirós-Alcalá’s research found that hairdressers in black and Dominican salons may see greater exposure to phthalates than other workers.
Other researchers have looked at formaldehyde, which is part of some hair straightening products marketed for black women, and has also been classified as a known carcinogen. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency wrote a draft assessment that found formaldehyde could cause leukemia, but Trump administration officials suppressed its release, according to The Intercept.
Trying to limit personal exposure to any ingredient can be difficult. Phthalates, for example, are found in fragrance blends, but companies aren’t required to tell what they contain, so those chemicals can sneak under a consumer’s radar, while products that don’t contain these ingredients can be more expensive. Proponents argue that a person shouldn’t take that much individual time and effort to stay safe when this kind of regulation should be the government’s job. That’s why some lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would ban 11 ingredients from personal care products in the United States.
“This has been overdue for so long,” says Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who presented the Toxic-Free Beauty Act to Congress in October. “Shame on us and our country for not taking it seriously! And an industry that has made so much money marketing for girls owes us more. “
The ingredients the bill would ban are already banned in the European Union, which is known to have much stricter safety standards than the U.S. Another bill by Schakowsky and his colleagues would create more transparency on exposure for children. salon workers.
Some companies are also behind regulatory efforts. A number of pharmacy chains are phasing out certain ingredients from their products, and some brands have pledged never to use them.