Toxic Beauty is the latest award winning documentary digging up all the dirt on the mainstream skin-care and beauty industry. Filmmaker Phyllis Ellis investigates America’s precarious post-market regulatory system responsible for the thousands of unregulated toxic chemicals found in personal-care products, from mercury in skin cream, formaldehyde in shampoo and lead in lipstick.
The documentary feature film explores all domains of the industry, exposes some dirty details around the class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and exclusively interviews the plaintiffs world-class scientists, chemists and formulators, regulators, politicians, lawyers and a dynamic whistleblower. It also follows young medical student Mymy Nguyen, documenting and measuring the chemical residues in her body, known as the ‘chemical body burden’ test. Like most women, Mymy uses around 27 products per day for her toiletries to her makeup. Toxic Beauty monitors the three blood tests she submits over three days, after her usual 27-step routine, one after a 0-product detox day and the the last after trying out nontoxic cosmetics. The results showed that Nguyen’s phthalate levels were five times higher, while her paraben levels were a whopping 35 times higher than when she switched to the clean beauty products.
Makeup artist and founder of the clean beauty makeup brand RMS Beauty, Rose-Marie Swift poses the question: ‘Are skin-care products the new cigarettes?’, stating “They said from the beginning cigarette smoke was safe. Mercury was ‘safe’ back in the day, arsenic was ‘safe.’ When there’s money involved, of course people are going to say it’s safe.”
The infamous carcinogenic asbestos-contaminated talcum powder, what we know as baby powder, is one of the most prevalent and dangerous, and is found also in eyeshadows, blushes, face powders and creams. Asbestos finds its way into our everyday makeup because of the extremely poor regulations around cosmetic-grade talc. The doctors, scientists, environmentalists and lawyers interviewed in the documentary unanimously conclude that it is highly likely that in at least forty years from now, talc (among many other harsh unregulated chemicals) will conclusively be linked to ovarian cancer as smoking is to lung cancer.
Astonishingly, cosmetic legislation in the US hasn’t been updated since 1938. This means that the research studies and data accumulated since that have corroborated links between these thousands of chemicals and various cancers, haven’t yet been accounted for.
Here is a handy list of what chemicals you should avoid at all costs:
Paraben preservatives and phthalates are also chief among the most toxic chemicals, both proven to be endocrine disrupters leading to hormonal imbalances, infertility, early puberty and breast cancers. Oncology professor Dr. Philipa Darbre shares “I’m actually quite upset about how much [paraben content] I’ve measured in human breast tissue.” Nguyen, despite having been shaken by her test results, still went onto say “I think there’s definitely a connection between phthalates and parabens and [health issues], but I don’t think these things are meant to cause any harm. With a lot of the girls I talk to, we love helping each other find new products and lifting each other up. Beauty is a very empowering kind of thing.” Filmmaker Ellis attributes this to the equally toxic power in marketing manipulation. Ellis later went onto admitting that “It’s really hard to pull that [beauty standards] back. When I was trying to detox my routine, I decided I was going to let my hair go gray and be proud of my age and do it for my daughter. And then I was going to London because Toxic Beauty was screening over there, and three days before I left, I thought, Oh my God, I can’t go to London looking like this! So I put $300 worth of chemicals on my head, and off I went.”
Many brands have made an effort to go ‘paraben-free’ thanks to the growing awareness around the issue, though they still have a long way to go and an even longer checklist of chemicals to eliminate. As public health professor Dr. David Michaels points out, “chemicals are not like people. They’re not innocent until proven guilty,” unfortunately.
Do your own research and become an informed consumer, your skin is your largest organ, do your best to treat it right! A study by the American Journal of Public Health looking into skin absorption rates found that the skin absorbs an average of 64% of the chemical contaminants applied to its surface, making their way straight into your bloodstream, lymphatic and endocrine systems.
To quote the documentary’s own slogan, “What if the next biggest chemical disaster is happening inside us?’
Toxic Beauty is now available to stream on Amazon and Apple TV. You can watch the trailer here: