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New Documentary 'Toxic Beauty' Reveals The Dirty Laundry Of The Personal Cosmetics Industry

Pick up a bottle of your heavy-duty shampoo or your fragranced body lotion and the ingredient list would read something like: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycol Distearate, Panthenol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Thiamine HCL, Biotin, Niacinamide, Ascorbic Acid, Cocamide Mea, Sodium Chloride, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Polyquaternium-47, Polysorbate 20, Disodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, and so on. 

Now, try googling a few of them and you’ll be flabbergasted once you find out how each one of them affects your body. But wait, that’s just the number of ingredients that have been listed on the label. “You have no way of knowing what’s in your product,” says Dr. Ami Zota, health scientist and professor in Toxic Beauty, a new documentary that throws light on the lax regulatory practices in the beauty industry and how they are stunting our health, one product at a time. 

Mymy Nguyen, a Medical Sciences student and the subject of the movie says, “This is something controversial, I am calling out the entire make-up industry. These companies are telling you, ‘Yes, it’s gentle, it’s safe and then ten years down the line oh my God I am infertile, oh my God I have cancer!’”

Image Courtesy: Toxic Beauty
Image Courtesy: Toxic Beauty

Through the length of the movie Nguyen is seen going through three blood tests, one right after her 27-step beauty routine, one after she switches to cleaner beauty products, and one after she goes for a beauty care detox. The results are shocking. On days when Nguyen goes for her regular beauty care routine, her phthalate levels turn out to be five times higher and her paraben levels 35 times higher in comparison to days when she opts for non-toxic cosmetics or no cosmetics at all. 

With an amalgamation of compelling case studies and scientific data based on a three-year-long research, Phyllis Ellis’s film takes a look into the dark alleys of the personal cosmetics industry and how a majority of unregulated ingredients that go into them lead to reproductive problems, ovarian cancer, pre-term birth, mercury poisoning, endocrine disruption, and whatnot. With a special focus on Johnson and Johnson—it’s alleged asbestos dense talc and Ellis’ personal moment of horror after finding out that it leads to ovarian cancer—the film calls out brands and their capitalist ways.

“The talc story is so personal for me. If the most trusted brand in the world is linked to ovarian cancer, what else are we using that could cause us harm,” Ellis asks in the film. A lot is put at stake as the brands go about employing the rhetoric of “just a little bit” of a cancer-causing agent or more when it comes to their sly marketing tactics. 

Image Courtesy: Harmful Cosmetics on Instagram
Image Courtesy: Harmful Cosmetics on Instagram

The question is: Do we really want to dabble with the possibility of nothing less than cancer? Haven’t we all been unseeing the signs for the longest time now? Go to any salon for a basic haircut and they’ll end up advising you to try out one of three different hair treatments laden with strong chemicals, each one more harmful than the other and yet claiming to somehow 'restore' your hair health. We have to be actively conscious of what cost this 'restoration' or 'health' comes at. 

Think of hair straightening treatments, for instance. Something that can literally transform our hair texture needs to be taken more seriously. Our short-sightedness and deliberate unawareness is catalyzing this toxic industry. 

As per a report by EWG, an average woman today uses 12 products a day, containing a total of 168 ingredients. That’s whooper given the kind of damage that each one of these have the potential to cause. “The best available science points to this cosmetics issue being even bigger than the tobacco industry because we’re talking about thousands of chemicals, most of which haven’t been accurately safety tested,” posits Dr. Rick Smith, environmentalist and author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck and featured in Toxic Beauty

The fact that just the ingredient tag 'fragrance' can hide as many as 3,163 ingredients behind the innocuous (mostly appealing) word should be alarming enough. The fact that big industry players are powerful enough to block regulations, or manipulate them should warn you. Your daily hand cream can potentially kill you! Remember, chemicals are not like people. They are not innocent until proven guilty. 

The need right now is to hold the government as well as the retailers responsible for the regulations as well as the lack of them. Sadly, if there is something that we humans have learned from our follies it’s that we seldom act while it’s time (read: the gnawing indifference towards the environmental crisis). While we should look up to these institutions to ensure our well-being and execute their job efficiently, we need to take onus until it yields any action. 

For starters, clean beauty needs to be taken more seriously than a trend or a mere buzz word. Next time you pick up a best-selling formula thinking, “So what? It contains a few chemicals,” think about its repercussions. You can also go to the Just Beautiful Pledge Campaign’s Website and download their pocket guide on the toxic ingredients that go into our beauty products. 

Image Courtesy: Toxic Beauty
Image Courtesy: Toxic Beauty

EWG’s ‘Healthy Living and Think Dirty app can also assist you in singling toxic ingredients out of your daily beauty routine. But more than that, we need to consciously aim for a few ideological changes. Starting with unsubscribing from the idea of beauty and perfection that the industry has managed to create. We also need to immune ourselves from the misleading advertising, or advertising of any kind for that matter. Remember, brands are built around sugar-coated words that cunningly camouflage all the dirt that goes into their making.

So, educate yourself about the ingredients sitting on your beauty shelf. It's time we see through these gimmicks and say no to toxic beauty!

Featured Image: Romafaru

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