Hot Docs review: Toxic Beauty

Phyllis Ellis's film about the harmful health consequences of chemicals in beauty products will make you rifle through your medicine cabinet

TOXIC BEAUTY (Phyllis Ellis, Canada). 90 minutes. Rating: NNNN 

After watching this engrossing look into the beauty industry, you’ll rush to your bathroom to check the labels of your shampoo and conditioner.

Canadian director Phyllis Ellis reveals the harmful health consequences of chemicals found in everyday products like lotions, lipstick and nail polish, the huge corporations that knowingly use them and the lack of governmental regulations to protect consumers. 

Bolstered by interviews with scientists, doctors and thorough research, the doc follows two main personal stories: young med student Mymy Nguyen who after finding a benign breast tumour is determined to learn the impact of her elaborate beauty routine and more than half a dozen women who used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum baby powder and were later diagnosed with ovarian cancer. 

The latter story takes up more screen time and is more devastating, as we discover that J&J has used talcum for decades even after learning that it was linked to cancer. (In the U.S., there are 11,700 lawsuits currently pending in Canada litigation against J&J is set for later this year). 

Other than J&J, the doc refrains from calling out other brands, which from a consumer perspective feels like a missed opportunity. But as one of Nguyen’s friends puts it, it shouldn’t be on the consumer to decipher ingredient lists: “We shouldn’t be telling girls to stop using these products the government should be telling these companies not to make toxic products.”  

Apr 29, 12:45 pm, TIFF 1 May 2, 5:45 pm, Scotiabank 3 

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