Stop and think: how many beauty products did you use this morning? Did you have a shower, wash your face, apply makeup, spritz on some perfume? And if you added up the ingredients lists of all those products, how many chemicals did you come into contact with before you even walked out the front door? Filmmaker Phyllis Ellis wants you to question what you’re putting on your skin.
When it was released in the US in October 2019, Toxic Beauty – a documentary on the potentially harmful chemicals inside cosmetics – caused quite a stir. It even led Vogue to ask the question: are skin care products the new cigarettes?
Over the course of 90 minutes, Toxic Beauty speaks to a whistleblower, her lawyer, world-class scientists and cancer survivors to understand what happens when personal care products go wrong. For the most part, Johnson & Johnson take centre stage, thanks to nearly 16,000 lawsuits from consumers claiming its talc products caused their cancer.
What you decide to put on your skin is entirely up to you. However, Phyllis Ellis, the woman behind Toxic Beauty, asks you to read the ingredient label before your next purchase. Here, she shares why:
Gritty Pretty: First of all, I want to know how Toxic Beauty came to be – do you have a background in the beauty industry?
PHYLLIS ELLIS: No, I don’t have a background in beauty at all. I was working with a company [White Pine Pictures] that had been developing a green reality show focusing on fashion and sustainability. It didn’t work out but they said to me, do you see a film here? I thought, probably not. But then we found the Johnson & Johnson talc story. I was an Olympian in ’84 and used Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder all the time. Then, I got in touch with Dr Daniel Cramer [world-renowned epidemiologist and Harvard professor] and he said I should get tested and that I was at high risk [of ovarian cancer] due to the number of years that I’d used it. I thought, well, if the most trusted brand in the world is linked to ovarian cancer, what else am I using that could cause me harm? That pushed me into this whole world.
GP: You spent over three years researching and filming this documentary. What has been your biggest takeaway from Toxic Beauty?
PE: The talc story is important because with Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and the potentially cancer-causing chemicals in personal care products, [the adverse reaction] happens over time. It’s not instant – like if your face burns when you use a cream for the first time.
GP: If one of our readers is concerned about the chemicals and potentially harmful ingredients in their beauty products, how can they err on the side of caution?
PE: I think we should reassess what we really need. Do we need 27 products to contour our face? We need to rethink our attitude towards what is considered beautiful. And then, do we need to replace 27 ‘dirty’ products with 27 allegedly ‘clean’ products? No – I think the big question is, why are we using 27 products?
Want more? Continue reading this interview in the Winter 2020 issue of Gritty Pretty Magazine.