Everyday Activist - Toxic Beauty (2019)

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at 06:00 PM

Toxic Beauty (2019)

Movie Review by Everyday Activist X CalgaryMovies.com

With all the Covid-19 measures in place for Alberta, I have way more time to write reviews and watch movies from YouTube, CBC Gem, Netflix and Kanopy. I finally watched Toxic Beauty on CBC Gem, which was shown at the Calgary International Film Festival in 2019. As a chemist involved in both plastics and cosmetics, I always have trouble responding to these types of films. Whatever is in cosmetics is nowhere near as toxic as chemicals used to make the plastic packaging; however, my behavior reflects a different opinion. I rarely buy or use cosmetics, except a moisturizer which I make myself.

Director, Phyllis Ellis, has two storylines, the lawsuit against Johnson and Johnson regarding the known dangers of talc powder and a bleached blonde, young Asian woman who willfully exposes herself to many different types of cosmetics. As an experiment she “decontaminates”, does some blood work and then uses alternatives. After using the new products she is tested again. The lawsuit storyline wasn’t overly interesting. Looking at a Scanning Electron Microscope picture of talc, it’s easy to see that the sharp crystal structure would damage or lodge in tissue, especially with repeated use. I’m always surprised these types of documentaries don’t include one; instead she had the same animations that I had seen in a 2015 movie called Stink! available on Netflix.

The question of who is responsible for consumer safety in Toxic Beauty is placed on the governments and manufacturers rather than encourage consumers to reduce exposure by using less products or switching to products that don’t use as many petrochemicals. Another option would be to encourage beauty schools to have cosmetic chemists come in to talk to their students about what to look for when recommending products to clients. I got a kick out of the interview with the cosmetic chemist whose nephews use bubble bath. He knows the petrochemical surfactants used to make bubbles shouldn’t be sold to children for every day use.

Hormone disruptor discussions have annoyed me since 2005. As a formulator, it’s hard to beat parabens for keeping a product mold and bacteria free. Even peer reviewed journals didn’t understand the consumer hoopla. Most of the alternatives are chemically similar, just more expensive. The documentary points out that natural antifungals such as tea tree oil and antibacterials such as lavender are also hormone disruptors. Reducing exposure by using less is the safest option. Without preservatives the cosmetics need to be stored in the fridge and used within the week.

Toxic Beauty doesn’t offer any unique to the cosmetic chemical discussion that hasn’t already been covered on Dateline or in other documentaries such as Stink! I appreciate renewing the awareness campaign, because one of my friends offered me a detangler for my hair. From working in the lab, chemicals like cyclohexane are flammable. Women often use detanglers with hair dryers. I didn’t think it would set on fire, but I’m not hanging around to find out. 

Calgary Showtimes: Toxic Beauty >


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