Darker Skin Toned Women: Toxic Beauty Regime Revealed
A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that beauty products marketed at women with darker skin tones have higher levels of toxicity compared to products aimed at women with lighter ones. Thus begins the toxic beauty regiment.
The EWG analysed 1177 cosmetic products marketed specifically at women with darker skin tones and submitted the ingredients to their database that ranks the safety of cosmetics and similar products on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most hazardous). Of the products, only 25% were recognised as being “low hazard” – which was very unsettling as their database usually registers about double the amount of “low-hazard” ingredients in products designed for lighter skin tones. Although there continues to be a growing market for products ranges aimed at darker skin tones – of those products only few are actually ‘safe’.
Under normal circumstances, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US does not assess cosmetic products before they are released, leaving that task to the companies and manufacturers. The only time the FDA does take action, is if a customer files a complaint. This system embodies the main reason why the beauty industry in so many countries is far less regulated than other sectors.
In South Africa, the purpose of labelling products is to create a transparent relationship between the producer and the consumer. But how effective is this regulation, really? Currently there is no telling just how well consumers both receive and apply this information. Unless consumers self-educate, the regulation has almost no benefit.
Products aimed at women with darker skin tones often like to promise features such as straighter hair and lighter skin. Ami Zota is an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University. She believes that the high demand for these products are a result of the constant pressure black women feel to resemble caucasian women. Now while this is a very controversial topic, there are a lot of studies backing up Professor Zota’s opinion. And while the idea of classic beauty being skewered to caucasian women is usually courtesy of the media. The conscious decision to purchase these harmful products in the hopes to achieve this idea of ‘beauty’ is all psychological.
How Are They Dangerous?
Listed below are harmful ingredients and which products they may be found in.
- Face Creams
Heavy metals – Although mercury was used in Elizabethan times to achieve a lighter complexion – much has changed since then. And any products that use toxic metals, such as mercury, need to be avoided. Exposure to metals has been linked to health concerns including reproductive, immune, and nervous system toxicity. Keep a look out for heavy metal ingredients listed on the back of your products, such as: lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, and sodium hexametaphosphate. Finally, just remember that products containing contaminant metals will not list them as ingredients – so do your research on the legitimacy of a brand before you buy from them.
Hydroquinone – Although banned in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa, this ingredient can still be found in many skin lightening and even-tone creams around the world. While its ability to lessen your melanin production can make it useful for certain skin discoloration issues, it also makes your skin become far more sensitive to the sun. Long-term use can potentially damage skin cells and put you at a much higher risk of developing cancer. Due to these factors, hydroquinone is only allowed in prescribed medicines with concentrations below 2%.
- Hair Products
Formaldehyde – This colourless, strong-smelling gas is a preservative used to prevent microbes from growing in water-based products. As a chemical, it is absorbed through the skin and has numerous links to allergic skin reactions and more severely, it is a known human carcinogenic.
Hair relaxers – Whether you choose a lye or non-lye base, hair relaxers are made from chemicals with high pH levels such as sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, guanidine hydroxide, or ammonium thioglyocolate. Exposing your hair to these chemicals is proven to result in health concerns such as chemical scalp burn, scarring, dry skin, baldness, eye irritation, and dry hair.
Parabens – These chemicals are yet another commonly used range of preservatives used in personal care products as well as foods to prevent the growth of microbes. Numerous studies have been conducted and proved that a certain amount of exposure can lead to endocrine disruption, cancer as well as developmental and reproductive toxicity.
If you’re unsure about how toxic the ingredients listed in your beauty products are, there are many reputable sites you can visit to help you along. Some sites we recommend include the EWG Skin Database and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
If you’re looking to go au natural in your approach – that’s something I can help you with. Here are my two favourite DIY beauty tips you can try at home:
- For evening out dark spots – mix two tablespoons of plain yoghurt, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of oatmeal. Apply to your problem areas for 15 minutes before washing off with a wet towel. Repeat daily to get the best results. While the yoghurt and lemon juice contain lactic acid – a natural bleach. The oatmeal is gentle mechanical exfoliator and moisturiser.
- Egg whites are also a great home remedy for skin tightening and brightening. Apply to your face and allowed to dry – the proteins in the egg are this simple ingredient’s claim to fame.
While safer and healthier cosmetic products for darker skins are becoming more widely accessible. For many, the dangerous association between having lighter skin and straighter hair with looking beautiful, still remains prominent. Yes, it’s near impossible to completely reverse this universal thought process. However, it’s only through self-educating and raising awareness we can begin to make a difference.