When Tiah Tomlin-Harris got diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38, she had no family history of the disease. However, she believed one key component may have led to her diagnosis of her: her lifestyle.
Convinced that this was the case, Tomlin-Haris 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. Tomlin-Harris, who has a master’s in chemistry and worked in the pharmaceutical industry, read about chemicals in beauty products being linked to cancer risk. However, the social worker wasn’t so convinced that the beauty products were the culprit. In fact, the social worker told Tomlin-Harris to continue using them because there was nothing she could do. Lifestyle changes don’t work.
Despite this, Tomlin-Harris still felt strongly about the harmful chemicals and toxins often found in common beauty products so she set out on a mission to educate Black women and ensure that they had better information than she did.
“Since the diagnosis, I’ve been helping busy other men and women fight, Tomlin-Harris said, according to a blog post. “I started a Facebook group called My Breast Years Ahead – Atlanta, helping women who have been affected by any type of cancer in the Atlanta area, connect and share their journey.”
In 2019, she joined Bench to Community, a research initiative in California dedicated to informing Black women about the harmful chemicals found in beauty products. The team is currently conducting research into how chemicals in beauty products may uniquely affect Black women.
Tomlin-Harris also co-founded My Style Matters, a 501c grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and supporting underserved families impacted by cancer.
“There are beauty supply stores everywhere in our community, on every corner,” Tomlin-Harris told Insider. “Beauty supply stores have harmful chemicals in them. So how do we get this messaging out into the community?”
This information is vital because research on chemicals in personal-care products and breast cancer is still lacking, according to the American Cancer Society. When research is conducted, they mainly consist of white participants, leaving Black women left out of crucial clinical trials.
“The people who conduct these studies are also not people of color,” says Lindsey S. Treviño, an assistant professor at City of Hope and a researcher with Bench to Community. “You study what you’re interested in, or what you care about, in the laboratory.”
Recent studies have shown that parabens (preservatives found in beauty, hair, shaving, and makeup products) and phthalates, which are often used in nail polish and hairspray, may be linked to cancer.
RELATED: New Study Finds Link Between Black Hair Products and Breast Cancer
Why do beauty products pose a risk for Black women?
Let’s face it, as Black women, we spend more money on beauty and hair products than other demographics. One reason we tend to spend more than our white counterparts stems from the discrimination we face when