Updated: May 1, 2019
This upset me.
This blog is a departure from my regular nutrition focus. But I have to share.
I received an invitation to attend the world premiere of Toxic Beauty from my friend Kerri Torrey who works for Beautycounter. Kerri is amazing and always educating me about trends in clean beauty and living, so I figured this would be a good show.
Toxic Beauty is a Canadian documentary that explores the use of chemicals in personal health care products and the link to disease, especially in women.
It specifically explores the direct link between baby powder and ovarian cancer and tells the story of key plaintiffs who took Johnson & Johnson (the baby company) to court. These women won. Johnson & Johnson lost and in 2018, paid over $4 billion in a class action lawsuit. More lawsuits are pending.
Is this fear mongering?
I promise you, it's not. The film also explores how "beauty norms" drive the need, desire and demand for products to achieve a certain look - a standard of beauty that is defined by advertisers, not you or me.
It makes you ask yourself, "how do I define beauty and am I willing to risk my health for it? Why SHOULD I be willing to risk my health? And wait, why are these companies doing this?"
These are good questions to ask - especially for our children. Let's wake up, educate and empower.
Yet, I admit, I was bit afraid going in. Did I REALLY want to know the details? Ignorance is bliss, right? But I was curious - personally and professionally. Skin is our largest organ. So I went in wanting to learn how the story of baby powder related to inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. And I got some good nuggets.
For instance, did you know that under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), manufacturers of personal care products only need FDA approval for colour additives before they go to market? That's it. No other ingredients. No other chemical - scent, preservative or active ingredient.
There are over 82,000 chemicals that can be added to personal care products. With the exception of "banned" chemicals, it is up to the manufacturer to decide and regulate what goes into their products and whether or not they can individually (or combined) cause harm to people who use them. There are not many long-term safety tests.
Well, at least there are some banned substances, right?
In the U.S., there are a total of 30 banned chemicals for personal care products. Canada has a list of approximately 600 that are on what is called the "hot list," meaning it's not law. In Europe, over 1300 chemicals are banned from personal care products.
Compare 82,000 to 30 banned chemicals. I think this sounds more like common sense than fear mongering.
The danger of talc
At the core of the film, you'll find baby powder and talc. You know, the stuff you put on your kids or your own body? The powder in a lot of makeup (blush, eyeshadow, bronzer, etc.)? Well, talc has been linked to ovarian cancer because it can be (but not always) contaminated with asbestos and other heavy metals.
You might say, "well, the risk is small." Perhaps. Yet it is real enough that in 2018, courts awarded $4.7 billion to the women plaintiffs involved in a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson because they were able to prove that J&J has known for years about these risks, and the company chose not to warn consumers or change the product formulation.
Hello Erin Brockovich.
Sigh. So upsetting.
Now, not all talc is evil. There will always be risks, so when buying products that contain talc, make sure you know that company does its due diligence and tests for contaminants. There should a certification that says it's asbestos free. It's easy to do and I'll tell you how to figure out how safe your powdered products are at the end of this article.
Hormone disrupters in personal care products
The film also explores the use of parabens and phthalates in personal care products and their potential health hazards.
Parabens naturally occur in food as a compounds that "preserve" the food. Synthetic parabens are manmade chemicals (e.g., methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben) and are used as preservatives to prevent bacterial growth in personal care products. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics and vinyl. They are commonly found in hairspray and nail polish.
Why should you care?
These (among others) are known endocrine (hormone) disrupters. Long-term, repeated exposure to these chemicals can also hurt your health.
For example, in 2018, the National Institute of Health linked breast cancer to personal care products and nail salon workers have a whole host of respiratory, skin, liver and other health issues due to the chemicals found in the polishes, glues and removers.
Now, you might be saying, "well that's not everyone and just because there is a link, it doesn't mean it's going to impact me."
And you're right - to an extent. Here's another example from the movie.
One of the movie's participants (a cosmetics enthusiast) volunteers to try a "chemical burden" test. In short, she measures chemicals in urine on various days. She volunteered to do so because in her early 20s, she had a benign cyst removed from her breast. She's a medical student and starting to think a bit more strategically and broader in terms of her own health and fertility down the line.
Her paraben/phthalates levels were through the roof (over the 95th percentile) on the days she used her regular "beauty" routine. On the days she didn't (either makeup free or "clean" products), she was well below the national average. In fact, just by switching to "clean" products, her chemical load was almost the same as the day she used no products whatsoever.
These two examples from the film (there are more) demonstrate that what you put on your skin directly impacts your health.
For those of you concerned about disease prevention (cancer, autoimmune or whatever), this is an important takeaway. They talk a lot about cancer in the film, but my mind also jumps to autoimmune.
Personal care products and health
Statistics show that 79% of autoimmune diagnosis are women. And many are diagnosed between the ages of 10 - 13 or in their early 20s. Currently, there is a lot of focus on gut health research in the autoimmune domain, but my heart-of-hearts thinks there must also be an equally important hormonal link.
I'm not a scientist, but I am practical. To me, it makes sense to consider skincare as much as nutrition for preventing or managing a disease. Especially when it can impact the immune system.
When you manage what you put on your skin, you have the opportunity to reduce your overall chemical and hormonal load. This can only be a win no matter which way you look at it.
So how do you do so? Follow these tips as you progress in your own awakening.
David Suzuki has a list of chemicals called the "Dirty Dozen" you can refer to. It includes BHT, DEA-related products, parabens and others to avoid. The link is here.
Try downloading the Environmental Working Group's App and use their Skin Deep Database. This database includes THOUSANDS of products. Here, you can simply type in the name of the products you use most often. How do they rank? If they score above a 3, you may want to consider finding another option, especially if you use it everyday! Two or below ... you're doing great.
Find substitute products in your price range for the products you use most often: shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup, toothpaste. There are lots of good products out there that can deliver what you need in terms of performance, without the chemical burden.
Consider natural body creams, like food grade coconut or almond oil. It is inexpensive, it lasts FOREVER and you're basically putting food onto your skin. Yum.
Many companies are starting to use corn starch as an alternative to talc.
Visit a health food store and explore options. Consider slowly switching out all of your products for cleaner options.
Ask friends first what works best. You want to make a wise change that delivers in both performance and safety!
Educate your daughters and sons! Have them look up their favourite products and do the same.