Why Everyone Should Watch “Toxic Beauty” Documentary

white and brown plastic bottles on white textile

Brief summary of Toxic Beauty

Toxic beauty is a documentary feature film following a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, a renown household brand. We follow personal stories of whistle blowers, survivors and women in a race against time revealing a series of ugly cover ups in the beauty & cosmetic industry. Besides that, the film weaves in a human experiment conducted by Mymy Nguyen, a Boston University Masters student who measures her chemical body burden when using different cosmetic products.

“The cosmetic industry is destroying women’s cells.”

This powerful statement mentioned by an ex formulator of one of the biggest cosmetic brands hooked me on immediately. I’ve had sensitive skin and eczema when I was a child, and the prolonged periods of itchiness and rash were not fun. Since then, I’ve always been wary of chemicals I apply on my skin, always fearful of a reaction. Even though I outgrew the sensitive skin phase, my sense of wariness about products I apply on my skin never left me. While my peers were playing with make up and slathering themselves in an assortment of cosmetic products, I stuck to the most routine: washing my face with water and applying sunscreen. After the unpleasant realization that I end up consuming the wax like substance, lipstick on my lips, I resulted to eyeliner as the only form of make up I use.

three makeup brushes on top of compact powders

Granted, some of the times, the lack of available scientific information in the present results in health issues in the future and cannot be avoided. However, what shocked me was that renown household companies like Johnsons & Johnsons which specialize in a range of baby products was engaged in a lawsuit that unveiled a series of cover ups that spanned across decades. Bear in mind this isn’t a direct hit on Johnson & Johnson as talc is used rampantly in other products. However, a link between talc and ovarian cancer was discovered all the way in early 1980s by world renowned epidemiologist Dr Daniel Cramer. However, nothing was done. No warning label was placed on talc even after the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared Talc as a possible carcinogen. The cosmetic industry has had little change since 1936, and the way we regulate personal care products need to improve.

I’d like to believe I’m an over cautious person, however, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that point that conglomerates often use harmful chemicals and ingredients in products and sell them to unwitting buyers. Labels such as “fragrance“, “parfum” and “aroma” do not show the ingredients used and can conceal a range of potentially hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, the fact that we live in a world operated by a post- market regulatory system is hazardous as a product goes into the market and a regulatory system kicks in only when there are incidents. The fact that we are slathering ourselves with potentially harmful chemicals every day of our lives doesn’t sit well with me. In 2004, Dr Phillipa Darbre, a scientist from the UK found parabens in breast tissue. In 2018, a study by the National Institute of Health linked breast cancer to the use of personal care products. Furthermore, the use of certain products high in oestrogen were found to link to hormonal disruption in baby boys causing a myriad of side effects such as developmental delays, low sperm count, infertility, cancer, diabetes, obesity and skin disease. The idea that a lot of these “bodily malfunctions” are essentially self induced is worrisome. How do we make informed decisions? How do we know which product is okay to use?

black makeup brush, lipstick, and blush on powder

It is scary that our physical and mental health risks can be self induced through using products containing harmful chemicals. The documentary follows Mymy Nguyen who conducts a self experiment to measure chemicals in her body when she doesn’t use any self care products at all, when she uses all of her usual routine, and when she uses natural and clean products. It was shocking that when she used her products she’s been using for years eg shampoos, toothpaste, make up, the parabens and phthalates (toxic chemicals) found in her urine samples were higher than the 95th percentile of Americans. It is close to impossible to not use any personal care products as tasks like washing your hair or brushing your teeth cannot be avoided. She expressed her fear of not being able to have children and like the women we follow in the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson expressed the guilt that the health risks were almost like it was self induced. I disagree with the statement, as I feel the chemists and R&D part of companies should be more stringent and responsible about the types of ingredients they choose to use. But how do we make sure that the products we use aren’t harmful to us?

Regulatory bodies such as the FDA should aim to be more stringent with regulating cosmetic products instead of buckling under the pressure of conglomerates who promise to self regulate. Furthermore, consumers should take one step further and use ingredient analyzer platforms such as 1Source, EWG, and Incidecoder to make sure that the products they use do not contain harmful ingredients / chemicals. It is really simple to use, especially if your ingredient label is filled with long chemistry names we are unfamiliar with. Simply type the name of the product into the platform. A rating of the products will be shown and toxic ingredients will be flagged. By making smarter purchasing decisions, consumers can support clean businesses and put pressure on other companies to use cleaner ingredients. For starters, here are some toxic ingredients and chemicals to look out for in your personal products.

Different types of harmful chemicals

woman in gray sweater holding lipstick

Endocrine disruptors:

  • Mimic hormone activity with links to birth defects, reproductive harm and cancer
  • Found in hair, nail, sunscreen and baby products, makeup, lotions, toothpaste, soap, fragrance

Phthalates:

  • Endocrine disruptors linked to developmental disorders, reproductive harm & cancer
  • Found in fragranced lotions, body wash, hair, skin, baby products, nail polish, perfume, color cosmetics.

Parabens:

  • Endocrine disruptors linked to reproductive harm, developmental disorders, cancer
  • A preservative found in deodorants, antiperspirants, soaps, hair, shaving, fragranced products.

Toxic ingredients and Chemicals to look out for

  • Shampoos containing formaldehyde have a high risk of serving as an endocrine disruptor, and bring about side effects such as allergies, depression, and cancer
  • Deodorants contain endocrine disruptors such as formaldehyde which causes hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and tumors
  • Skin cream containing mercury, coal and tar may serve as endocrine disruptors that causes tremors, insomnia, and/ or cognitive dysfunction
  • Soap containing coal, tar and 1,4 dioxane may serve as endocrine disruptors that causes allergies, infertility and heart disease
  • Fragrance often contain toxic chemicals that are not disclosed and may cause allergies, reproductive disorders, and cancer
  • Skin lighteners containing chemicals hydroquinone and mercury may cause skin disease, organ damage or cancer

References:

“Carbon Black, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc – IARC Publications Website.” https://publications.iarc.fr/Book-And-Report-Series/Iarc-Monographs-On-The-Identification-Of-Carcinogenic-Hazards-To-Humans/Carbon-Black-Titanium-Dioxide-And-Talc-2010. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

“The Film — TOXIC BEAUTY.” https://www.toxicbeautydoc.com/the-film. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

“TOXIC BEAUTY.” https://www.toxicbeautydoc.com/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

Natural hair dyes are not safer!

selective focus photo of woman in purple jacket

Changing your hair color is a luxurious treat, but going to a hair salon can be a costly affair.  To save time and money, many opt to dye hair at home with the help of boxed dye. Health conscious customers may purposely choose hair dye products with natural labels to reduce the risk of allergies, minimize chemicals, or cause less damage to the hair. However, the Consumer Council has discovered that many “natural” labels  are misleading and harbor false claims. Click here if you’re wondering how hair dye works!  

multicolored hair close up photography

The Consumer Council tested 26 hair dyes labelled with “natural”, “herbal”, “plant based”, and “organic”. Prices of hair dyes ranged from $18 – $450. Hair dyes were tested for 8 common hair dye allergens, ammonia, heavy metal content, pH, label information and the microbiological content of herbal henna samples. Results showed that companies utilized these keywords merely as a marketing tool, as the contents of the product failed to support its claims. 60% of the dyes tested contained allergens or heavy metals, posing a health risk to users. Conclusion of this report: don’t fall into the trap of assuming “natural” products are safer! 

13 oxidative permanent hair dyes and six henna-type products

The results showed that allergens were detected in up to 16 products. The three allergens found include p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), m-Phenylenediamine (MPD) and Touluene-2, 5-diamine (PTD) which is on the Poisons List of Pharmacy and Poisons Regulations. Phenylenediamine (PPD) contained highest content, ranging from 0.29% to 8.3%, with the latter from Herbul Sea Spirit  Grass Dyed Pure Black Hair. Although common, cosmetic regulations in the Eurupean Union and mainland China cap the concentration of PPD at 2%. Melva’s Hair Color Powder with Natural Nourishing Herbs exceeded the regulation by 100%, while Korean- made Cosline’s Squid Ink Speedy Color Cream was on point. 

What is PPD?

purple apple-cut haired woman facing at the back

PPD is commonly used in oxidative dye type hair dyes to produce colorful dye compounds when mixed with other chemical substances. Studies have shown that some people are at risk of developing scalp irritation, swelling, and even difficulty breathing. 11 products containing PPD, and 3 other henna dyes containing PPD: 

  • Herbatint’s Permanent Haircolor Gel (1N)
  • Naturtint’s Permanent Hair Color
  • Tints of Nature’s Simply Healthier Hair Colour Permanent Hair Colour
  • Khloris’ Sepia Seven Hair Color Cream
  • Naturigin’s Naturigin Natural Hair Dye – Black 2.0
  • Richenna’s Vitamin E Hair Dye
  • LUCIDO-L’s Natural Plant-based Hair Dye
  • Cosline’s Squid Ink Speedy Color Cream (1N)

Henna:

  • Hair Dye produced by Herbul
  • Ling Lee
  • Melva’s Hair Color Powder with Natural  Nourishing Herbs

Henna disaster 

people hands with tattoes

Natural henna needs to be applied for at least “three to five hours  before it can show a dyeing effect,” described by Consumer Council Chief Executive, Gilly Wong Fung-han during an interview with South China Morning Post. She described that many manufacturers may be tempted to add chemical substances to improve coloring effect as well as shorten the time it takes for the color to show. 

All six henna dyes were found to contain lead, with Herbul Sea, India, and Indigo dyes leading with a lead content of 3.1. Furthermore, Melva’s Hair Color Powder with Natural Nourishing Herbs contain a lead content of 0.4 to 0.6, with one sample containing 0.043 mercury. The heavy metal contents were within mainland China regulations, however the council cautioned prolonged exposure to the dyes. 

Furthermore, the total number of bacterial colonies in all samples exceeded the mainland’s requirement of less than 1,000 colonies per gram. Be Nature Organic Herba Powder was found to contain 250,000 bacteria, 249 times higher than what was allowed. 

One mutagenic ingredient prohibited by The Europian Union and mainland cosmetic regulations was found in TS Chakhan Hair Color Cream. Furthermore, there was an issue of false lalbelling as five of the hair coloring products failed to list the ammonia content. Out of the five, two of them (Herbatint and Tints of Nature- even claimed to be “ammonia free”, when they actually contained the chemical. Seven other products only had a partial list while two did not have any information on their contents at all. Read on to find out how 1Source can help you find quality products. 

The Consumer Council reminded consumers to conduct a skin allergy test on all hair dyes before using the product and highlighted that those with eczema or scalp damage should steer clear from hair dye treatments. Read on to find out how to use 1Source to navigate the beauty world. 


References:

“Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns ‘natural’ hair dyes are not ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://toysmatrix.com/hong-kong-consumer-watchdog-warns-natural-hair-dyes-are-not-always-risk-free/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

 “henna Archives – ToysMatrix.” 15 Mar. 2021, https://toysmatrix.com/tag/henna/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

 “Consumer Council announces 60% of hair dye samples contained ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://www.dimsumdaily.hk/consumer-council-announces-60-of-hair-dye-samples-contained-allergens-or-heavy-metal-content-ts-brand-contains-banned-drug-mpd/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021

 “HK’s consumer watchdog found 11 hair dye products containing ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/167379/HK%E2%80%99s-consumer-watchdog-found-11-hair-dye-products-containing-allergens. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.

 “Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns ‘natural’ hair dyes are not ….” 15 Mar. 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3125468/hong-kong-consumer-watchdog-warns-natural-hair. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.