My Journey with the Documentary Toxic Beauty
Last year around Thanksgiving, I came across a Treehugger.com post about a new Canadian-based documentary called Toxic Beauty that deep dives into the ingredient dangers lurking in personal care and cosmetics' products, specifically talc. At the end of the post, it mentioned that a small film festival in downtown Los Angeles was screening it the following weekend for the public. As a beauty publicist, all I sling these days is EWG-verified, Paraben-free, vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, sulfate-free, talc-free, organic, made in the US, reef-friendly, dermatologist-recommended products, so I felt it was my responsibility to see this documentary. I bought two tickets, one for me and one for my 16-year-old daughter.
Even though I've worked in the industry of unregulated beauty and pretty packaging for more than 20 years, I've only been woke to the perils of using products with certain ingredients for the last few years. The term "clean beauty" really only became a catch phrase less than a decade ago when skincare tycoon Tata Harper came on the scene with her Farm to Face movement.
I've always been diligent about reading the ingredients on food labels (thanks, Mom). But who'd have thought it's just as important to read and better yet, understand, the ingredients listed on my body lotion or concealer?
I'm being serious here...do you know the difference between Phthalates and Methylsilanols? FYI...the first one is a harmful chemical that makes plastic soft and flexible and the second one is a safe derivative of silicon and protects skin from free radicals among a host of other good-for-you functions. The thing is, they're both in many cosmetic products and you can't pronounce either one. But one is toxic (phthalates) and the other isn't.
What's even scarier is that the last time congress voted to regulate cosmetics was 1938. And to date, only 11 chemicals are outlawed from being used in beauty formations while more than 1,300 are restricted in the European Union.
Getting back to the screening...I remember just sitting there in the darkness of the theatre shaking my head back and forth and feeling sick to my stomach by the lack of transparency the behemoth corporation Johnson & Johnson has displayed throughout the years with their talc-laden baby powder, as endless women have lost their lives to ovarian cancer from using their products. Again, I knew talc wasn't great, but even I (someone whose worked in this industry for almost have their life) didn't know to what extent. If this movie shook me, I could only imagine what it would do to all the women throughout the world who don't have the faintest idea that their daily dosing of baby powder could end up killing them.
I went home, looked up anyone I could find associated with the film on LinkedIn and found a producer in Canada. I wrote her letting her know that I had just seen the documentary and that I'd love to help promote it any way I could. She wrote me back right away and connected me with their team in the U.S. Days later I was speaking with the executive producer, Cheryl Starulakis and the film's director, Phyllis Ellis. They didn't have any real PR helping promote the film (the press I read came from a Meet The Press Film Festival) and long story short, I was hired. I couldn't believe it!
I had never worked on promoting a film before, but my knowledge of the beauty media landscape was what was important here and through my connections, I was successful in getting the film covered by Vogue, The Hollywood Reporter, Fashionista, New Beauty, Shape, Elle, The Daily Beast, The Chalkboard Mag, Huffpost, among many other national and international media outlets.
Word spread and more and more people started waking up to this grim reality about the truth lurking in their bathroom drawers. On more than one occasion, I would be having a conversation with someone totally unrelated to this project and as soon as I mentioned the film, that person would say, "Oh my God, I just talking about that documentary. My friend told me to watch that!" This was a good feeling, of course, that in some small way, my help was making a difference in people's lives for the better, including most of all, my teenage daughter, who now makes sure everything she uses passes through the Think Dirty App.
Quick fact: Talc is not just reserved for baby powder. Just about any personal care or cosmetic product that absorbs moisture can contain talc including deodorants, face powder, blush or eye shadow.
Just a couple months ago, something incredible happened. A news story that had nothing to do with the pandemic came out, almost as if it were trying to slip through the cracks...Johnson & Johnson is stopping the sale of talc-based baby powder in U.S. and Canada.
Being part of this movement and creating a push for change in this industry often referred to as the Wild West has been monumentally rewarding for me and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. However, in the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database alone, there are still more than 2,000 products that contain talc out there for sale today. This just shows that there is still plenty of work to be done on this front.