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6 tips to empower your beauty choices

A rack of colorful nail polishes

1. Ingredients only tell part of the story

Some nail polishes advertise that they are free of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, or phthalates. Still, there are no medical studies demonstrating the safety of any nail products. Acrylic glues and nail polish removers may also contain hazardous products.

2. You can bring your own polish

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, in recent years, three large companies—OPI, Orly, and Sally Hansen—have removed toluene from their polishes. If you prefer to be cautious about your nail products, you can purchase your own polish and bring it with you to any salon you choose. If you’re uncomfortable talking about safety, you can say it’s your favorite color or matches something you plan to wear. Masking can help protect you from cold and flu germs, but it does not filter out chemical fumes.

3. Hazardous chemicals may be hiding

Many scientific studies have shown an association between endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and higher rates of breast cancer and other types of cancer. EDCs increase cell growth, decrease cell death, and alter the way that breast cancer cells turn on and off. Research shows that certain hair relaxers and oils, as well as dark tones of hair dyes, contribute to higher exposure levels of EDCs in Black women . EDCs are often hidden in the ingredient list using neutral words like “fragrance.”

4. Look beyond nail products

One class of EDCs called parabens are used as preservatives in many different personal care products including: styling gels, foundation and face powder, lip liner, shampoos, and conditioners. You can look for “paraben free” on product labels. Phthalates are another group of EDCs usually used in nail polish and hairspray to maintain the color and lessen brittleness. They’re found in fragrances for many personal care and cleaning products. Formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent, is banned in Europe but is found in many US hair-straightening treatments and nail polish.

5. Beware of marketing language

Words like “organic” or “natural” on a label are marketing, not science. Stay informed and make the best decision for you, in consultation with your oncology team.

6. When in doubt, learn more from these sources

LBBC’s Knowledge Is Power webinar on beauty products for Black women

Bench to Community Initiative: Reducing Adverse Exposures in Black Women with Breast Cancer

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

BLK + GRN: An all-natural marketplace by all Black artisans

Beauty Products and Potential Risk Among Women of African Descent


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