Black Woman With Breast Cancer on Link Between Beauty Products, Cancer

  • Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer but are often omitted in trials studying it.
  • A team of community-based researchers — plus a survivor and more — work to prevent these deaths.
  • The research initiative is studying toxic chemicals in beauty products marketed to Black women.

Tiah Tomlin-Harris got breast cancer at 38, without any family history of the disease.

Tomlin-Harris, who has a master’s in chemistry and worked in the pharmaceutical industry, suspected her lifestyle might have contributed to the cancer’s development.

Just after receiving her diagnosis, she asked a social worker at the hospital if there was anything she should be doing to prevent her cancer from worsening or coming back after remission. She mentioned that she’d read about chemicals in beauty products being linked to cancer risk. 

The social worker refused to engage, Tomlin-Harris said. She told Tomlin-Harris to keep using the products she wanted to because there was nothing she could do — that lifestyle changes don’t work.

Research on chemicals in personal-care products and breast cancer is still lacking, the American Cancer Society said. But recent studies have identified two groups of chemicals in beauty products that might be linked to cancer: parabens — which are preservatives found in beauty, hair, shaving, and makeup products — and phthalates, used in nail polish and hairspray.

Tiah Tomlin-Harris is a cancer survivor spreading awareness about cancer-causing chemicals in beauty products

Tiah Tomlin-Harris, a breast-cancer survivor.

Bench to Community


In 2019, Tomlin-Harris joined Bench to Community, a research initiative in California, to ensure other Black women get better information on toxins in beauty products than she did. The team is conducting research into how chemicals in beauty products may uniquely affect Black women, and it shares new insights as soon as they become available.

“There are beauty supply stores everywhere in our community,

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