Every day we use so many creams, serums, soaps, lotions, and cosmetics on our skin. I took note of what I used in the morning before my first coffee – 8 products already in. And within the products how many chemicals and ingredients are used? I’m not even sure. Over the course of the day, we can probably count hundreds if not thousands of chemicals hidden inside cosmetics and personal care products. Would it surprise you to learn that many of them are toxic? What’s been happening in the beauty and skin care industry? We’ve trusted with all the labels and presumed rigorous testing for years. TOXIC BEAUTY – an eye-opening documentary sounds the alarms. The film has made its rounds on the Film Festival circuits and will begin streaming on February 7 on CBC Gem.
TOXIC BEAUTY is an explosive documentary from Canadian filmmaker Phyllis Ellis that tackles the life and death issues of public health that have been kept in the shadows by the power of pharmaceutical companies and the lack lustre attention of government regulators. It follows the class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson with personal stories from the plaintiffs. Ellis had exclusive access to scientists, lawyers, advocates, regulators, politicians, and those affected particularly in the talc-related lawsuits.
“As an Olympic athlete with over 15 years of training and competing, I used Johnson & Johnson baby powder several times a day,” says Ellis. “After months of research and speaking with world-renowned epidemiologists and oncologist, Dr. Daniel Cramer, I discovered I was at risk.”
Also woven into the film is a human experiment by Boston University medical student, Mymy Nguyen, who measured her chemical body burden from more than 27 consumer products as scientists monitored and share the shocking results.
Here’s the official trailer…
We had the opportunity to interview Phyllis Ellis to learn more…
For generations, we’ve trusted the governing bodies like the FDA, to essentially do their job, that is, to deem what is safe for public consumption. Now we are questioning everything. So, what went wrong?
PE: From what we learned-the FDA does not have the resources to research and regulate the thousands of chemicals, toxicants in cosmetic/personal care products on the market. Nor do they have the authority to stop companies from using chemicals/toxicants already known to be hazardous. So it’s not really a trust issue but a cost and jurisdiction issue. Like Dr. David Michael’s says in the film ‘regulations for cosmetics/personal care isn’t in the back seat, it’s not even in the car.”
Our experts tell us that it is our governments that we should trust to provide the FDA with the necessary resources and support to regulate cosmetic and personal care products for toxicants, harmful chemicals and carcinogens but they are not doing it sufficiently. We’d like to think they’d use the premise of epidemiology which is the precautionary principle, meaning if it hasn’t been tested for safety and there is no information on how it might affect the body, better to avoid using it. But no. Dr. David Michaels also tells us in the film ‘chemicals are not like people, they are not innocent until proven guilty’. And also shouldn’t we be able to trust big Brands that market these products to us that the formulations are safe, but like we’ve seen in so many industries tobacco and others, this isn’t the case . These products are things we use on our skin daily. Like Scott Faber, from Environmental Working Group in Washington shared in the film, it’s not that the FDA doesn’t ‘want’ to regulate these products, the FDA isn’t given the jurisdiction, human resources or funds to regulate the hundreds of thousands of beauty products on the market.
Are the regulations here in Canada the same as the US?
PE: Not entirely. Julie Gelfand, Auditor General’s Office of Canada tells us that, in Canada, we have what is called ‘a post market regulatory system’, meaning a product can go on the shelf for a hundred days and if no one complains, good to go. But as many of our experts tell us many of the dangers in these products accumulate in our bodies over time and a lot longer than a hundred days. In the US, it’s a no market regulatory system, meaning they do not regulate cosmetics and personal care products, the industry self regulates and the regulations haven’t changes since 1938. To date, Big Cosmetics says it’s safe and the regulators say ok.
Did you find anything different from other countries with regards to regulations – through your research?
The EU bans more chemicals that Canada and the US but it doesn’t mean the products are regulated in a better way although they have been addressing this for years. But it does mean that their bans have caused big industry to reformulate their products. However as our experts tell us, in all countries manufactures are responsible for ensuring that products comply with the law before they are marketed. They are responsible for demonstrating that the product is safe for it’s intended use. So industry itself says yes it’s safe, and the products are put on the shelves. It gets complicated with industry sponsored ‘science’ and claims of clean, green, organic, natural – all words we have to be very careful trusting.
It was shocking to learn that most products go on the shelves untested by regulators, yet, the beauty and skincare products out there all make the claims of testing and plenty of research. What have you learned?
What I have learned is that we have to be very careful with industry produced ‘science’ and to be cautious of pseudoscientific ‘research’. Getting straight answers about beauty products is a confluence of massive marketing campaigns that tell us we can defy, improve, radiate, beautify, make our hair curlier, straighter, smell better, whiten, lighten, brighten – go from ordinary to extraordinary by using something in a bottle or tube. Phrases like clinically proven or dermatologist tested or all natural, organic, pure. Clinically proven by whom? There is a lot of science paid for by industry. It’s murky. Safest likely is don’t use anything with the word fragrance or parfum on it because those words alone can contain hundreds of chemicals and some can be harmful as to date most ‘fragrance’ ingredients are propriatory.
Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder is one that gained much public and media attention . What has happened since the court case?
There have been many court cases. J&J is the titanic and as Dr. Daniel Cramer tells us in the film, they haven’t changed their position on talc in over thirty years. But what we learned from outstanding scientists, epidemiologists like Dr. Roberta Ness, is that there is a lot of excellent research that has been done in those thirty years to say that talc isn’t safe to use in cosmetics and personal care products. So let’s go back to the precautionary principle – if there is a chance that the use of talc, say for women could cause ovarian cancer, why wouldn’t any company simply put a warning label on the product OR remove the use of talc from the product? Couple of reasons. They don’t have to and this is a women’s health issue. Not to mention as Scott Faber from EWG says at the first congressional hearings on talc March 2019, ‘there are over 2,000 cosmetic products that contain talc, 1,000 are loose powders. Talc, Asbestos, Mercury, Lead, why are any of these in products we put on our skin, hair, lips. And people say oh, it’s only a trace amount of lead in lipstick. As Dr. Bruce Lamphear tells us, NO amount of lead is safe, the WHO said that a long time ago. Back to J&J. J&J has had mixed results in previous talc trials. A Missouri jury last year ordered J&J to pay $4.69 billion to 22 women who alleged the company’s talc-based baby powders contained asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer. But Monday Feb 3, Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky was set to be called as a witness on Monday in what would be his first appearance in a jury trial over allegations that the company’s Baby Powder causes cancer.
What else should we know?
PE: People ask me all the time what my beauty routine is now that I know so much about what’s ‘clean’ what’s not. But I really don’t. I’m leaning into reduce, reduce and remove. I’m feeling like my beauty routine is some shampoo/conditioner that’s fragrance free and clean as I can, soap for hands/body and toothpaste. What ever else I use I want to get to looking in the mirror and feeling pretty good without anything. Comfortable with my age. But it’s funny, I was going to London for a screening of the film and I was going to let my hair go grey and I looked at myself and thought I can’t go to London looking like this so I doused myself at the salon with 300 dollars worth of toxic chemicals. So it’s a process. Little by little and send a note to your MP even to get talc banned in Canada.
Stream the documentary here: CBC Gem
Learn more about the film here.