The Big Tobacco trials of the Family camping 2017 shirt but I will buy this shirt and I will love this ’90s do bear an unsettling resemblance to the more recent Johnson & Johnson trials. Ellis contrasts a clip of tobacco executive James Johnston stating, “Cigarettes and nicotine clearly do not meet the classic definition of addiction” with footage of modern-day Johnson & Johnson executives denying cancer claims. She highlights the scientists who testified to the safety of smoking and cuts to those now doing the same for talc. Interestingly enough, there’s also evidence of internal memos about nicotine’s status as “an addictive drug” circulating throughout tobacco companies in the 1960s, though a watershed moment wouldn’t come until 2000. It begs the question: Is skin care the new cigarette? Forty years from now, will talc be as irrefutably linked to ovarian cancer as smoking is to lung cancer? The scientists, doctors, and lawyers interviewed in Toxic Beauty think so—and talc (which, it should be noted, is also found in face powders, eyeshadows, and more) is far from the only cosmetic ingredient they’re questioning. The best available science points to this cosmetics issue being even bigger than the tobacco industry,” Dr. Rick Smith, environmentalist and author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, says in Toxic Beauty, “because we’re talking about thousands of chemicals, most of which haven’t been accurately safety tested.” The chemicals Dr. Smith is referring to are the tens of thousands of substances available for use in personal-care products in the United States, the majority of which have not been assessed for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Since the industry operates under a postmarket regulatory system (which is to say, is not really regulated), most ingredients aren’t reviewed by a government agency before they go to market. Regulation kicks in only if customers report problems post-purchase. Ellis adds that cosmetic legislation in the U.S. hasn’t been updated since 1938, meaning current safety data is unaccounted for—data that connects common chemicals like parabens and phthalates to hormone disruption and breast cancer and that shows carcinogenic heavy metals in personal-care products. Toxic Beauty zeroes in on the research behind parabens (a class of preservatives) and phthalates (plasticizers commonly found in fragrances). Both are considered endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that mimic hormones, which may lead to hormonal imbalance, infertility, sperm damage, early puberty, and even hormone-related cancers, like breast cancer. Both are proven to infiltrate the body. “I’m actually quite upset about how much [paraben content] I’ve measured in human breast tissue,” Dr. Philipa Darbre, an oncology professor, remarks in the film.
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Like talc, the Family camping 2017 shirt but I will buy this shirt and I will love this potential dangers of parabens and phthalates are hotly debated, one reason being these molecules are tiny and are theoretically filtered out of the body via the liver. But as Ellis says, “It’s not one product, it’s the accumulation of a number of products, and the reapplication of those products.” That’s the number of soaps, serums, concealers, and more that Mymy Nguyen, a 24-year-old medical student at Boston University and one of the documentary’s star subjects, reaches for each morning. “I’m always chasing this kind of look, this kind of aesthetic,” Nguyen tells Vogue. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to look a certain way. It’s part of who I am and how I dress.” Still, when Nguyen connected with Ellis, she was curious to see how her beauty routine (Clairol shampoo, Fenty Beauty foundation) affected her chemical body burden, especially after a recent brush with a benign breast tumor. Toxic Beauty follows Nguyen as she submits to three blood tests over three days: one after her usual 27-step regimen, one after a zero-product detox day, and one after switching over to clean beauty products. The results, revealed in the film’s final moments, are staggering: On a typical day, Nguyen’s phthalate levels were five times higher and her paraben levels were 35 times higher than when she switched to nontoxic cosmetics. I think there’s definitely a connection between phthalates and parabens and [health issues], but I don’t think these things are meant to cause any harm,” the medical student says. “With a lot of the girls I talk to, we love helping each other find new products and lifting each other up. Beauty is a very empowering kind of thing.” To Ellis, this speaks to the manipulative power of marketing, which can be just as toxic as the products it promotes. “We have to change these beauty norms so women don’t have to choose between their health and trying to look beautiful,” she states. “I really believe this is a women’s health issue.” And even more so for women of color. Products aimed at minority women—skin-lightening creams, hair-straightening treatments—“have higher levels of carcinogens and toxicants,” Ellis says. Research from the Environmental Working Group shows that one in 12 beauty products marketed to black women contains toxic substances, with less than 25% of products in the space considered low in potentially hazardous ingredients.