Feminist scholars critique food and drug law as a site of gender bias and regulatory neglect. The historical exclusion of women from clinical trials by the FDA prioritized male bodies as the object of clinical research and therapies. Likewise, the FDA’s prior restriction on access to contraceptive birth control illustrates how patriarchal and paternalistic attitudes within the Agency can harm women’s reproductive health. However, there is little analysis of how race and gender intersect in this domain. This Article uses the regulation of skin-lightening cosmetics products to illustrate why and how intersectionality matters in food and drug law. While the inadequate regulation of cosmetics has a disparate impact on women’s health, it is women of color who predominantly use skin-lightening products, similar to some hair care products that are disproportionately marketed to women of color. Additionally, skin-lightening products are often toxic because they contain mercury and other harmful substances. The skin-lightening industry has also historically (and contemporarily) targeted women of color with racist and colorist advertising messages that idealize light skin as the pinnacle of beauty. The inadequate regulation of cosmetics illustrates why intersectional analysis is essential in food and drug law. An intersectional lens uncovers the various underlying forces that produce a disparate health impact for women of color: systemic racism in health, racially targeted marketing, and hegemonic beauty norms shaped by race and skin color constructs. The increased toxicity of these products also overexposes women of color to more serious health risks from cosmetics. While cosmetics reform has ushered in new regulations that improve the Agency’s authority to regulate cosmetics, the health risks posed to women of color from toxic personal care products in general deserves urgent attention in food and drug discourses. Intersectional analysis uncovers the contours of this urgency and offers an important response to the de-prioritization of women of color within food and drug law discourses.
Intersectionality Matters in Food and Drug Law,
U. Colo. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/lawreview/vol95/iss1/2