Racist beauty standards do a lot of damage to non-white women. The immense global pressure to conform to a white European ideal—including light skin, straight hair, and a slim figure—means that women of color are particularly susceptible to developing psychological problems ranging from eating disorders to depression and generalized self-hatred.
Now research suggests that racist beauty standards put minority women at higher risk of physical health problems, too. In a commentary published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers from George Washington University and Occidental College argue that women of color are exposed to higher levels of toxins than white women. That’s because they use, on average, more cosmetic products in an effort to comply with European beauty standards.
“Racial discrimination based on European beauty norms can lead to internalized racism, body shame, and skin tone dissatisfaction, factors that can influence product use to achieve straighter hair or lighter skin,” the authors write. “Thus, beauty product use may be 1 [sic] way that structural discrimination becomes biologically embedded.”
The unregulated industry
In the US, cosmetics are largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Unlike drugs and medical devices, they don’t have go through multiple clinical trials to be considered safe for consumer use.
However, the FDA does have a website where people can post complaints about various products when they experience adverse health outcomes. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of these complaints more than doubled, suggesting that some users think these products—especially hair-care products—are making them sick.