Tiah Tomlin-Harris, a cancer coach and breast health educator, confronted her breast cancer diagnosis head-on and is now shining a light on the harmful effects of toxic chemicals in beauty products.
Insider reports Tomlin-Harris was diagnosed at 38 years old without any family history of the disease. Immediately, she realized that her lifestyle might have contributed to her cancer’s development.
Shortly after receiving the news, she asked a social worker at the hospital about preventative measures in case the breast cancer worsened or returned after remission. She also noted some readings about chemicals in beauty products being linked to cancer, but the social worker refused to engage with her findings.
Instead, the social worker advised Tomlin-Harris to continue using the beauty products because lifestyle changes wouldn’t make a difference. However, Harris, who has a master’s in chemistry and worked in the pharmaceutical industry, decided to find out for herself.
“There are beauty supply stores everywhere in our community, on every corner,” Tomlin-Harris, a Project Lead graduate with the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), told Insider. “Beauty supply stores have harmful chemicals in them. So how do we get this messaging out into the community?”
The lack of information and research about the chemicals in beauty products is alarming. Existing research studies strongly suggest that the following two groups of chemicals may be linked to cancer at certain exposure levels.
Parabens, which are used as preservatives in many cosmetic products, including makeup, moisturizers, haircare products, and shaving creams/gels, can act like a very weak estrogen in the body when penetrating the skin. As a result, researchers at City of Hope, a private medical center, found parabens to cause the increase in growth of breast cancer cells in black women compared to white women.
Next, phthalates are most commonly used to hold color and reduce brittleness in nail polish and hair spray but can also disrupt the balance of hormones.
With this, Tomlin-Harris has dedicated herself to being a community change agent and advocate, focusing on health disparities, Black women’s health, and healthy lifestyle education. She strives to ensure that other Black women are more informed about the toxins in beauty products than she had been.
“Since the diagnosis, I’ve been busy helping 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 group of eight researchers and community advisors based in California. They are researching how Black women are uniquely affected by the chemicals in beauty products.
Additionally, Tomlin-Harris also co-founded My Style Matters, a 501c grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and supporting underserved families impacted by cancer.
Tomlin-Harris’ advocacy has earned her recognition and awards, including President Bush’s – Point of Lights Award.