Site Title Goes Here

Shortcut Navigation:

Get the Latest Updates

Sign Up: Please leave this field empty


press contact

Denise Halloran
Director of Marketing and Communications
Email Denise


Breast Cancer Fund on Facebook
Printer Friendly

Cosmetics Popular Among African Americans Linked to Cancer, Other Serious Health Problems

Bill Requiring Cosmetics Companies to Report Use of Hazardous Chemicals Passes California Senate

Contacts: Genevieve Roja, Kevin Donegan, Breast Cancer Fund, (415) 346-8223

SAN FRANCISCO—At a time when African Americans spend an estimated $5.7 billion annually on beauty and body care, many communities of color are unaware of hazardous ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products that are linked to cancer, genetic mutations and reproductive harm.

According to a study of beauty products by the Environmental Working Group conducted last year, for example, four products commonly-used by African Americans contained one or more ingredients linked to cancer.

The worst offender was L’Oreal’s Feria Haircolor Cardinal 67, scoring 9.2 out of 10 on the report’s safety scale. It contained seven ingredients that pose cancer risks, one ingredient linked to breast cancer, two linked to allergens, and 23 ingredients that have not been assessed for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-funded safety panel.

Yesterday, the California Senate passed SB 484, authored by Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund, a San-Francisco based environmental health organization, as well as Breast Cancer Action and the National Environmental Trust. The bill would require cosmetics manufacturers to disclose ingredients linked to cancer and reproductive harm, allow the state to develop health and safety standards based on their investigations and give the state authority to regulate dangerous exposures in occupational settings. The bill now goes to the state Assembly.

Other beauty and body care products popular among African Americans that raised concerns about links to cancer and reproductive health problems in the Skin Deep report include:
• Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion for Dry Skin, which scored 8.8; it contains two ingredients that pose cancer risks;
• OPI Classic Shades Nail Lacquer OPI Red, scoring 8.7, with two ingredients linked to cancer and two other ingredients linked to birth defects and other reproductive health concerns and;
• Dark and Lovely No-Lye Conditioning Relaxer System scored 6.9, with four ingredients which may contain impurities linked to breast cancer and other cancers.

Cancer is of particular concern for African Americans, especially for women. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer and is also the second-leading cancer resulting in death among African Americans. Among Black women under 40, the incidence of breast cancer is higher than that of white women. Overall, white women have a higher incidence rate for breast cancer, but African American women have a higher mortality rate.

According to industry data, 42 percent of African-American women color their hair in a salon. African-Americans make up 16 percent of beauty industry professionals in the nation’s hair, nail and skin care salons. A 2001 USC study found that nearly 20 percent of cancers in Los Angeles County may be attributed to the use of permanent hair dyes that contain cancer-causing coal tar—five times the risk of the general population.

“The incidence and deaths related to breast cancer for African Americans are staggering,” said Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund. “As a precautionary measure, we are calling on cosmetics manufacturers to remove ingredients linked to cancer from their products.”

One of every 120 products on the market contains ingredients certified by government authorities as known or probable human carcinogens, including shampoos, lotions, make-up foundations, and lip balms, according to the EWG study, entitled “Skin Deep.” One-third of all products contain one or more ingredients classified as possible human carcinogens. And 89 percent of ingredients in products have not been assessed for safety.

Contrary to what many consumers may believe, the FDA does not review or regulate cosmetics products or ingredients for safety before they are sold to the public and has no legal authority to require safety assessments of cosmetics.

The Breast Cancer Fund is a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of U.S.-based health and environmental groups, which is calling upon cosmetics manufacturers to remove toxic chemicals from their products. Thus far, 116 cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers have signed the “Compact for the Global Production of  Safe Health and Beauty Products,” a pledge to replace hazardous ingredients with safer alternatives within three years.

Despite repeated requests, however, L'Oréal, Revlon, Estée Lauder and several other major multinational cosmetics companies have thus far refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which would commit them to undertake an inventory of all ingredients; determine whether they use chemicals that pose hazards including cancer, endocrine disruption, genetic mutation, reproductive toxicity, developmental harm and neurotoxicity; and implement a plan to replace those ingredients with safer alternatives within three years. Commonly-used cosmetics ingredients that pose such risks include formaldehyde, coal tar, lead acetate, silica, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulphate, p-phenylenediamine and certain phthalates.

Women and girls use an average of 12 personal care products daily, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

# # #