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Review: Toxic Beauty

September 20, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Directed by Phyllis Ellis, who takes an investigative approach to the material, the documentary Toxic Beauty explores how harmful ingredients like phthalates, parabens and even formaldihyde are lurking in a lot of the soaps, deodorants, creams and shampoos that many women use on their bodies every single day.

Through personal testimonies as well as interviews with different doctors, researchers and whistleblowers, the film becomes a powerful exposé of how cosmetic companies have lied about the amount of cancer-causing chemicals in their products over the years, from makeup to Johnson & Johnson baby powder, alleging a massive, decades long coverup rivalling that of big tobacco.

One of the film’s biggest charges is that genital use of talcum powder can lead to ovarian cancer. Ellis explores how Johnson & Johnson has spent years lying about the harmfulness of talc through the story of Deane Beeg, who sued the company after developing ovarian cancer at only 49 years old, following decades of using baby powder on her body.

Another one of the subjects in Toxic Beauty is Mymy Nguyen, a young medical student who uses over two dozen products on her body every day, and decides to do a detox experiment by testing her urine on days when she does and doesn’t use these products, and the results are remarkable. If this scary and well researched film doesn’t make you think twice about what products you put on your body, I don’t know what will.

Toxic Beauty is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival.

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