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.

Are Red Meats Killing You?

A short walk down the meat aisle show shelves full of packaged slabs of meat, minced meat, and processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages and Italian cuts. One thing in common is that all these meats are derived from red meats, notorious for increasing the risk of major chronic diseases. Here, we have compiled a list on why we should try to lower our red meat intake.

sliced vegetable on black textile

Why You Should Lower Your Red Meat Intake

Reduce the risk of developing coronary heart diseases

Over the years, there have been plenty of studies done by researchers warning us against the dangers of red meat. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal went one step further and showed that replacing red meat with plant- based diet can help keep the heart healthy, and even reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The study aimed to find out the relationship of red meat and the risk of men developing coronary heart disease in the United States, and to find out if a plant based diet could positively affect the risk of CHD in men. The findings echoed other studies, where processed, unprocessed and total red meat were associated with a modestly higher risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD).

The study offered an alternative diet solution, and went one step further to report that an intake of one serving per day of combined plant proteins including nuts, legumes, and soy could lower the risk of CHD. Furthermore, the study also found that consuming whole grains and dairy products was associated with a lower risk of CHD.

variety of assorted-color beans

Processed meat contain carcinogens

According to reports by independent academic research organization, Global Burden of Disease Project, about 34,000 cancer deaths per year was linked to diets high in processed meat. The World Health Organization has classified processed meat as increasing the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer based on epidemiological studies conducted by researchers. Some studies have included links of consuming meat with pancreatic and prostate cancer, and stomach cancer.

person slicing meat

Reducing the consumption of red meat and processed meat as recommended by the WHO can help reduce risk of colorectal cancers. Furthermore, reducing our consumption of meat also reduces our intake of fat and sodium, which are risk factors for other cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

Increases risk of type 2 diabetes by 12%

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat in adults increased the risk of them developing type 2 diabetes by 12%. Besides that, the study found that substituting a serving of nuts, low- fat diary and whole grains for one serving of red meat was associated with 16-35% lower risk of type 2 diabetes among adults.

flat lay photography of sliced apples, sausages, chips and brown sauce

So how much protein should we eat?

  • The World Cancer Research Fund recommended a maximum of three servings a week in their 2018 report.
  • The National Academy of Medicine recommends “eating a little over 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight”.
round white ceramic plate with lime on top

Can you get enough protein without eating meat?

top view salad with guacamole

Yes, we can. Evidence points that we should cut down the amount of red meat we consume. In an interview with CNN Health, director of health promotion and communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s department of nutrition, Lillian Cheung recommends swapping meats for fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and poultry. However, Cheung notes that it is important to ensure that we still get enough proteins and minerals. Cheung highlighted the importance of taking multivitamins containing iron or B12 vitamins or iron rich foods such as leafy greens, lentils and soybeans to ensure we’re getting sufficient iron while cutting back on red meat.

References:

“Red meat intake and risk of coronary heart disease … – The BMJ.” 2 Dec. 2020, https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4141. Accessed 30 Dec. 2020.

 “Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and ….” 26 Oct. 2015, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat. Accessed 31 Dec. 2020.

 “Healthy swaps key to reducing red meat intake during the ….” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/reducing-red-meat-covid/. Accessed 31 Dec. 2020.

“Worried about beef shortages and price spikes? Here’s how to ….” https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/18/health/eat-less-meat-shortage-wellness/index.html. Accessed 31 Dec. 2020.

 “Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts ….” https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/94/4/1088/4598110. Accessed 31 Dec. 2020.

What You Should Know About Clean Eating

In searching for the perfect formula of healthy eating, and achieving our dream body, we’ve seen the rise and fall of all sorts of diet trends. Clean eating is a term thrown around in the health and wellness industry, however, the ambiguity behind this term poses a problem. A study was conducted to find out the perception of clean eating among 1266 adolescents and emerging adults and the definitions obtained were heterogeneous, with 40% describing the term as “non-processed” or “whole foods” and 13% noting “non-GMO” or “organic” components. (Read our article if you’re wondering if you should go organic!)

In a bid to narrow the scope of what constitutes clean eating, we’ve decided to scour the internet for a clearer definition of this term. A narrative we found in common was that it is a diet pattern that focuses on fresh, whole foods while avoiding refined and processed foods as well as preservatives and additives. However, it is up to an individual to determine the rigidity of their eating habits. Some people may go as far as to refuse to eat foods treated with hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, while others may be more lenient.

cooked dish on gray bowl

“(Clean eating) is a diet pattern that focuses on fresh, whole foods while avoiding refined and processed foods as well as preservatives and additives.”

Whole foods, less preservatives and additives, less salt and sugar? On the surface, the idea of clean eating sounds good. However, a closer look shows how easy it is to fall into the clean eating rabbit hole.

fruit salad on gray bowls

Labelling foods as good and bad

Excessively categorizing foods into good and bad categories may lead us to fall down the rabbit hole of completely avoiding certain foods which may lead to nutrition deficiencies. Some people may refuse to eat any foods containing additives, however, an article published on Medical News Today claimed that there are some beneficial food additives. Vitamin D added into milk was used with the purpose of enhancing bones while iron added to orange juice serve as a source of nutrients for a person.

white liquid in glass cup

Clean eating may lead to eating disorders

Clean eating may unwittingly promote diet restrictions that lead to severe eating disorders as people mentally and physically punish themselves for “eating the wrong thing”. Medical experts coined this phenomena as fixation orthorexia nervosa, a fixation on righteous eating.

A study tracked the eating behavior of 762 women and evidence of diets falling under the banner of orthorexia. The experiment is done in a controlled environment where each subject is required to log their meals into an app. The results were then organized into a chart and a pattern is deduced from it. Those adhering to dietary advice are more likely to exhibit dietary restraint which may lead to more obsessive practices and develop into an eating disorder. This study shows the negative effects that diet restriction can have on an individuals mental health, as different eating disorders are results from eating too ‘clean’.  

women taking selfie

Takeaway

While magazines, and articles glorify clean eating and sing praises about its effects of glowing skin, and heightened energy, an article in the British Medical Journal refuted these claims as a “loose interpretation of facts” as other less restrictive diets can also do the same things. With the right mind set, eating clean is beneficial to the human body as we opt out artificial additives, preservatives and instead aim to eat a healthy diet full of whole foods. (Read here to find out top 5 healthiest cuisines in the world) However, excessive worry and focus on finding the cleanest foods may instead put a person under stress and morph into eating disorders and nutritional deficiencies.

Instead, of categorizing foods as good and bad, aim to eat a healthy variety of foods. Here is a recommendation of what a healthy meal should look like from Harvard University.

Healthy Eating Plate

References:

 ““It’s Healthy Because It’s Natural.” Perceptions of “Clean ….” 7 Jun. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352986/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

 “Clean eating: 3 myths and truths – Medical News Today.” 9 Feb. 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320865. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

 “11 Simple Ways to Start Clean Eating Today – Healthline.” 8 Apr. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-ways-to-eat-clean. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

 “Margaret McCartney: Clean eating and the cult of healthism ….” https://www.bmj.com/content/354/bmj.i4095. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

“(PDF) Is #cleaneating a healthy or harmful dietary strategy ….” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333567123_Is_cleaneating_a_healthy_or_harmful_dietary_strategy_Perceptions_of_clean_eating_and_associations_with_disordered_eating_among_young_adults. Accessed 30 Dec. 2020.

 “Healthy Eating Plate | The Nutrition Source ….” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/. Accessed 30 Dec. 2020.

Dangerous Effects of Eating Frozen Foods

After a long day of work, we’re all guilty of throwing frozen foods into the microwave for a quick fix. Although frozen foods are quick, and affordable, a tiny part of us just knows that it certainly isn’t the healthiest dinner choice. However, what is wrong with eating frozen foods? Why are they bad for us?

frozen blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries

Frozen foods may increase blood pressure?

The US Food and Drug Administration defines processed foods as “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling.” This defines nearly all food served in restaurants and grocery store products as processed. Food processing process involves the addition of sodium containing additives, hence increasing the sodium level in food products.

white and red labeled pack on shelf

This is an issue as according to the CDC, up to 70% of sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant foods. Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure, hence increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend Americans to consume less than 2300 milligrams of sodium each day. But here’s a more important question: How do we cut down sodium in our food?

  • Similar products may vary in sodium content, hence, compare food labels and opt for foods with the least amount of sodium.
  • Use fresh ingredients instead of processed ones
  • Request for lower sodium options when dining out
  • Reduce portion sizes can limit salt consumption
dish on white ceramic plate

Frozen food may clog arteries

In processed / frozen food, trans fat is known as “partially hydrogenated oils” on ingredient labels which is notorious for clogging arteries and increasing the risk of heart diseases, stroke, and developing type 2 diabetes. Trans fats raises bad (LDL) cholesterol, while lowering the good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Trans fat is created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid, according to Heart Organization.

pizza with berries

Why do companies use trans fats? Besides being inexpensive and giving food a desirable taste and texture, trans fats can be reused a number of times. However, its undesirable health effects have trumped its usefulness, leading countries such as Denmark, Switzerland, Canada, and several jurisdictions of the US to restrict or reduce the use of trans fats in food service establishments. In November 2013, the FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food.

Unknown chemicals in frozen foods

A report from Environmental Working Group estimated that up to 2,000 synthetic chemicals can be found in conventional packaged foods. Furthermore, the chemicals may not be approved by the FDA but as it is approved by industry group, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, it is used in products while not being required to be labeled on the package. This is disturbing as these added chemical preservatives may cause long term effects such as increase the risks of diseases ranging from hormonal problems to cancer.

woman holding fork in front table

The EWG has conducted their research and summarized some common synthethic preservatives found in packaged foods:

Synthetic PreservativesConcerns
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)Listed by the state of California as a carcinogen and classified as a potential endocrine disruptor by the European Union.
Sodium NitrateDetermined by the World Health Organization to be probably carcinogenic to humans.
Sodium BenzoateWorld Health Organization reports hematologic effects in laboratory studies
t-ButylhydroquinoneWorld Health Organization reports hematologic effects in laboratory studies.
Diacetyltartaric and Fatty Acid Esters of GlyceroWorld Health Organization reports inflammation of the heart in laboratory studies.
Propylene GlycolWorld Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report blood effects in laboratory studies.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)Causes lung and liver tumors in studies of laboratory animals.
Disodium InosinateWorld Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have determined can increase uric acid levels, increasing the risk of kidney stones or gout.
Disodium GuanylateWorld Health Organization determined can increase uric acid levels, increasing the risk for kidney stones or gout.
Polysorbate 80Environmental Protection Agency reports potential to be an endocrine disruptor in studies of cells. Disrupts gut microbiota in laboratory studies.
Polyoxyethylene Sorbitan MonostearateAffects reproduction and lactation in laboratory studies.
NatamycinWorld Health Organization reports gastrointestinal effects.
Source: EWG, from EWG’s Food Scores database
mixed fruits served on ceramic plates

Try to reduce the consumption of frozen foods as there are too many synthetic chemicals that may cause long term health problems. Furthermore, trans fat and sodium contained in frozen foods may increase the risk of one developing heart diseases, strokes and other complications. Instead, try to use natural and organic foods as all synthetic chemical compounds has to be stringently approved by the FDA. If you really suffer a lack of time, try to ask your server for dishes with the least amount of sodium when dining out, and to check nutrition labels carefully before purchasing frozen foods.


References:

 “Get the Facts: Sodium’s Role in Processed Food – CDC.” https://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_role_processed.pdf. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

 “Dangerous Side Effects of Eating Frozen Foods, According to ….” 26 Dec. 2020, https://www.eatthis.com/news-side-effects-eating-frozen-foods-experts/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

“Organic: The Original Clean Food – EWG.” 5 Mar. 2019, https://www.ewg.org/research/packagedorganic/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

 “Trans Fats | American Heart Association.” https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat. Accessed 29 Dec. 2020.

Should You Go Organic?

Whether it’s for health purposes, a personal revelation, or a new years revelation, you’ve decided to adopt a healthier way of eating. You’ve swapped potato chips and burgers for vegetables and lean protein. But as you look through supermarket shelves another question comes to mind: what are organic labels and…should you choose them?

assorted vegetables on white ceramic plate

What does an organic label mean?

According to Harvard Health, the purpose of organic agriculture is to preserve natural resources, support animal health and welfare, and to avoid synthetic materials or chemicals in produce. The USDA is a strict regulator for the organic industry and only provides a “USDA Organic” seal for foods that are 95% organic.

sliced apples and bananas on white surface

Produce and livestock is considered organic when:

  • Soil is free from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
  • Crops cannot be genetically modified
  • Animals cannot receive antibiotics or growth hormones
  • Animal feed has to be grown organically
  • Animals must be able to roam around outside
  • Processed organic foods must not contain synthetic additives

Is organic food safer?

Man made pesticides in non organic foods

sliced meat on brown wooden chopping board

In an interview with WebMD, John Reganold, a professor of soil science at Washington State University described the chances of getting pesticide residues as “much less with organic food”. He used a case study conducted by Consumer Union to show that organically grown crops had one third of the pesticide residue compared to non organic produce.

Even so, the amount of pesticide and synthetic chemicals in non organic produce is still well below the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed unsafe. Hence, the real potential health risk is whether the accumulation of small doses over decades may harm us.

Natural toxins in organic food

brown round fruit on gray metal rack

If you helped out in the kitchen, you’d instinctively know to cut off the green spots on potatoes. Solanine is a substance produced by potatoes and is identified by its green spots. This is an example of natural toxins in plants where an over consumption of this substance can make you physically ill. As organic plants lack synthetic chemicals and pesticides to protect them, they have to resort to creating their own toxins to contend with pests and insects. Some say this this natural toxins may be as harmful or even more so then synthetic pesticides used in the production of non organic foods.

As a rule of thumb, rinse all fruits and vegetable thoroughly under running water even if you are going to cook it after. Take special care to wash fruit skins such as oranges or melons as cutting unwashed fruit skins may bring pesticides from the blade into the flesh.

Is organic foods more nutritious?

sliced fruit on white surface

A few studies have reported a higher level of antitoxins, Vitamin C and minerals in organic foods, however, the differences compared to non organic produce is too small to have a significant impact.

However, there is one certainty. Eating food while its fresh is the only way to get the most nutrients out of it. Nutrients oxidize over time. So, even if there is a higher content of nutrients in organic foods, it would oxidize and disappear sitting in the refrigerator.

Is it worth the cost?

vegetable salad

Toxic and pesticides accumulate in the soil, water, our bodies and we end up consuming it. Although there is insufficient data surrounding this topic, the potential health risks are always there. Choose what works for your lifestyle. Organic foods tend to be up to 47% more expensive than non organic foods. If you are able the luxury of choosing all organic produce and like the idea of a more environmentally friendly production system, organic is the way to go! However, choosing certain products as organic works too!