A survey conducted by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and in partnership with WE ACT for Environmental Justice set out to determine whether beauty norms are motivating the use of chemical straighteners and skin lighteners.
Through the WE ACT Beauty Inside Out campaign, researchers surveyed a small sample of 297 women of color and femme-identifying people of color to understand what influences beauty perceptions beyond personal choice. Product use varied by race/ethnicity, background, and influence from friends and family. Twenty-five percent of female respondents reported ever using skin lighteners and 22 percent of femme-identifying respondents reported ever using them. Skin lightener use among Asian and Hispanic respondents was higher for respondents born in countries outside the US.1
Concerns over skin lighteners include the ability to disrupt cortisol regulation leading to metabolic problems due to high corticosteroid content, as well as kidney and nervous system damage from mercury.2 While not all skin lighteners contain these toxic ingredients, personal care products are largely unregulated.
The Safer Beauty Bill package introduced in 2021 includes four bills introduced in Congress to make beauty and personal care products safer for everyone. Of these bills, Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MOCRA) was passed. This act will require the cosmetics industry to align its practices with other FDA-regulated consumer products to address widely used chemicals that slowly break down over time, create standardized tests for asbestos and talc, and require companies to register their facilities and maintain safety records.
Lariah Edwards, et al., “Beauty Inside Out: Examining Beauty Product Use Among Diverse Women and Femme-Identifying Individuals in Northern Manhattan and South Bronx Through an Environmental Justice Framework,” Environmental Justice (2022): https://doi.org/10.1089/env.2022.0053.
Edwards, et al., “Beauty Inside Out: Examining Beauty Product Use Among Diverse Women and Femme-Identifying Individuals in Northern Manhattan and South Bronx Through an Environmental Justice Framework.”