Beauty

Endocrine Disruptors in Perfume,

Carcinogenic Baby Powder? A New

Documentary on the Beauty Industry

Baby powder is what did it for documentary filmmaker Phyllis Ellis. A field hockey player for over twenty years (she was on the Canadian Olympic team and competed in the 1984 Summer Games), she used it daily. “I loved it—I put it in my bra, used it in my hair as dry shampoo, sprinkled it between my sheets,” says the Toronto director, writer, and producer. Unlike many of the women in her incredible new documentary, Toxic Beauty*, Ellis isn’t fighting for her life because of her talc exposure. The film looks at the all-but-unregulated beauty industry through the lens of an ongoing class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson. The company has already paid billions in punitive damages to women across the country who claim that long-term use of its asbestos-contaminated talc caused ovarian cancer. The first study linking talc (the primary ingredient in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder) to ovarian cancer came out—wait for it—in 1982. “The talc story is so personal for me,” says Ellis. “If the most trusted brand in the world is linked to ovarian cancer, what else are we using that could cause us harm?”

After the three years it took her to create Toxic Beauty—it’s captivating, and in theaters and on screens now—Ellis cleaned up her own regimen. “I first replaced the products I use every day, multiple times a day: shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste, soap. I began to use coconut oil on my skin and got rid of anything with fragrance/parfum in it, including my favorite perfume,” she says. “If the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ is listed on the label of any product, simply don’t choose it. The possible number of chemicals that single word is hiding can go into the hundreds.”

Through interviews with scientists, politicians, regulators, lawyers, and women fighting ovarian cancer, Toxic Beauty calls attention to another of the industry’s evils: its disproportionate targeting of not just women but, more specifically, minority women. “Compared with white women, women of color have higher levels of beauty-product-related environmental chemicals in their bodies, independent of socioeconomic status,” says Ellis. Research shows that hair-care products marketed to black women (who spend more money on beauty products than any other group, according to a 2018 Nielsen report) contain higher percentages of endocrine-disrupting chemicals than those marketed to the general public, and that black women suffer disproportionately from hormone-related issues, such as infertility, preterm births, and uterine fibroids. (You can read more about it on goop here.)

Toxic Beauty draws a parallel between the personal-care industry and the tobacco industry. “For thirty years, the tobacco industry denied that smoking and tobacco were harmful or addictive; the beauty industry says nothing is toxic in their products, and if there is, it’s only in trace amounts,” says Ellis. “Trace amounts can build up over time, stay in our systems, and are linked to cancer.” (It should also be noted that there are no known “safe” amounts of endocrine disruptors and that, so far, research shows that even very tiny amounts impact our hormones.)

But Ellis points out an important distinction between the two industries: One is targeted primarily at women. She says, “If men were getting testicular cancer from using talc, I bet those products would have been taken off the shelf or at least gotten a warning label back in 1982,” when the first paper identifying a link between talc and ovarian cancer was published.

goop’s Top 10 Clean Beauty Swaps

We absolutely agree with Ellis on ditching anything with “fragrance” listed on its label (without a clear list of what’s in the fragrance ingredient) and on switching out the products you tend to use the most first. Here, we’ve prioritized our favorites to make it easy:

  1. 1

  2. CLEAN EXFOLIANT

    Instead of the consistency-altering chemicals and preservatives, fragrance, and other ingredients that do nothing for skin, GOOPGLOW Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator contains glycolic acid plus a blend of four powerful skin-polishing minerals for the most thorough exfoliation of your life. There’s nothing harsh in this air-whipped formula, and the best part is you feel it sloughing away dirt and grime as it works its glowy-skin magic.

  3. goop Beauty GOOPGLOW MICRODERM INSTANT GLOW EXFOLIATOR goop Beauty GOOPGLOW MICRODERM INSTANT GLOW EXFOLIATOR
    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW MICRODERM
    INSTANT GLOW EXFOLIATOR

    goop, $125/$112 with subscription
    SHOP NOW

  1. 2

  2. Clean Deodorant

    The underarms are a particularly vulnerable spot on the body—close to lymph nodes and often subject to daily shaving, which makes the skin there more porous than it already would be. So the aluminum, known endocrine disruptors like parabens and phthalates, and synthetic fragrance (an ingredient that can legally hide hundreds of potentially toxic ingredients) in conventional antiperspirants and deodorants are all the more concerning. The newest clean deodorants are as effective as conventional ones, absorbing sweat and targeting odor with sophisticated blends of botanicals, plant-derived starches, clays, and essential oils. This one from Type A holds up against the most ass-kicking workouts and stressful office days, and comes in a compact, chic tube that easily fits in any bag.

  3. Type A The Minimalist (Unscented) Type A The Minimalist (Unscented)
    Type A
    The Minimalist
    goop, $10
    SHOP NOW

  1. 3

  2. Clean Mascara

    Conventional mascara formulas commonly contain a product of coal-tar combustion, along with preservatives, parabens, phthalates, and plastics. The idea of putting those chemicals near our eyes, without even the barrier of skin that most other products are applied to, doesn’t sit well with us. This one uses chicory root extract, along with other natural ingredients, to leave lashes impossibly long, fluttery, and inky.

  3. Eye Love You Mascara Eye Love You Mascara
    Westman Atelier
    Eye Love You Mascara
    goop, $62
    SHOP NOW

  1. 4

  2. Clean Tinted Lip

    (and Cheek) Balm

    A super moisturizing, faintly tinted balm that leaves lips gleamy (and also adds the perfect warm flush to cheeks) is a look we love every day, year-round. The petroleum, dyes, and plasticizers in conventional balms are concerning because you ingest anything you put on your lips. The balms from Olio E Osso are infused with organic olive oil, shea, essential oils, and natural pigment, soothing dryness and nourishing lips as they leave behind the sexiest tint.

  3. Olio E Osso Olio E Osso
    Olio E Osso
    Balm
    goop, $28
    SHOP NOW

  1. 5

  2. Clean Shampoo

    and Conditioner

    Hair care is an especially toxic category in conventional beauty. When you go clean with your hair products, beyond the benefits of dodging parabens, preservatives, and synthetic fragrance, you also get more of the natural oils, butters, and plant extracts that work to keep your hair healthy and shiny. (Many of the ingredients that conventional beauty brands commonly use to make hair look healthy, like silicones and polymers, do little to actually condition it.) We’re in love with the pure, super luxurious line from Innersense—it leaves hair fantastically healthy and shiny.

  3. Innersense Hydrating Cream Hair Bath Innersense Hydrating Cream Hair Bath
    Innersense
    Hydrating Cream
    Hair Bath

    goop, $28
    SHOP NOW
  4. Innersense Color Radiance Daily Conditioner Innersense Color Radiance Daily Conditioner
    Innersense
    Color Radiance
    Daily Conditioner

    goop, $30
    SHOP NOW

  1. 6

  2. Clean Self-Tanner

    If you love self-tanner, it’s hard to live without it, despite the usual laundry list of potentially toxic ingredients in many conventional formulas (parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances, to name a few). And if you love self-tanner, this one—a clear solution that turns into an easy-to-blend foam; leaves the best, most natural color; and never transfers, not even the tiniest bit—is a full-on miracle.

  3. Vita Liberata Vita Liberata
    Vita Liberata
    Invisi Foaming
    Tan Water

    goop, $39
    SHOP NOW

  1. 7

  2. Clean Skin Treatment

    Conventional face products often contain irritating and potentially toxic chemicals (hello, preservatives!), but they also pack in many ingredients, like thickeners and binders, that make a product feel more moisturizing but don’t in fact do anything for your skin. In contrast, clean, nontoxic moisturizers often have higher concentrations of…moisturizing ingredients. This cult-favorite one from Vintner’s Daughter gets raves from the breakout-prone and the aging and dry-skin types among us. Phytoceramides, twenty-two active organic botanicals, essential oils, and powerful phytonutrients are part of the magic that really shows up on your skin. The results never fail to blow us away.

  3. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
    Vintner’s Daughter
    Active
    Botanical
    Serum

    goop, $185
    SHOP NOW

  1. 8

  2. Clean Body Lotion

    Body lotion gets smoothed over considerably more of your body than, say, face cream. And since a good deal of what you put on your skin is absorbed, clean and nontoxic choices make enormous sense. Consider that the European Union has banned over 1,300 ingredients in beauty products, while the FDA has outlawed just eleven. And also consider all the unadulterated goodness (nourishing oils and plant extracts as opposed to polymers and silicones that feel smoothing but do little to moisturize skin) you get when you choose a clean lotion. This one is made with a blend of essential oils, plant butters, antioxidants, and swirls of skin-rousing citrus.

  3. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
    Grown Alchemist
    Body Cream:
    Mandarin &
    Rosemary Leaf

    goop, $26
    SHOP NOW

  1. 9

  2. Clean Body Wash

    Body lotion gets smoothed over considerably more of your body than, say, face cream. And since a good deal of what you put on your skin is absorbed, clean and nontoxic choices make enormous sense. Consider that the European Union has banned over 1,300 ingredients in beauty products, while the FDA has outlawed just eleven. And also consider all the unadulterated goodness (nourishing oils and plant extracts as opposed to polymers and silicones that feel smoothing but do little to moisturize skin) you get when you choose a clean lotion. This one is made with a blend of essential oils, plant butters, antioxidants, and swirls of skin-rousing citrus.

  3. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
    goop Beauty
    G. Day Ginger +
    Ashwagandha
    Energy Body Wash

    goop, $32
    SHOP NOW

  1. 10

  2. Clean Sun Protection

    Chemical sunscreen contains some of the most irritating, harmful substances in the beauty industry. Two commonly used ones are oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which are potential endocrine disruptors and accelerate coral bleaching (they were recently banned in Hawaii for the latter reason alone). Mineral SPF formulas (make sure the active ingredient box lists only zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both) sit on top of skin to physically block UVA and UVB rays, as opposed to chemical sunscreen ingredients, which absorb the rays. Clean, nontoxic, and skin-soothing (zinc oxide is the calming ingredient in baby-bottom cream), mineral formulas take a touch more time to smooth into your skin, but they’re more than worth it. The cream-serum from Vive Sana is one of the most moisturizing, glow-inducing formulas we know.

  3. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
    Vive Sana
    Serum Crema SPF 20
    goop, $75
    SHOP NOW
  1. BONUS: CLEAN PERFUME

    We’re passionate about fragrance. And it remains one of the most underregulated categories in an underregulated industry: If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, know that it’s (legally) used to hide any ingredients a manufacturer doesn’t want you to know about. Master perfumer Douglas Little has almost single-handedly turned clean, nontoxic perfume into the luxurious, magical, beautiful thing it is today. He creates scents not only for goop but also for his own line, Heretic. His latest, Florgasm, is an epic, erotic mix of tuberose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and more.

  2. Heretic Florgasm Heretic Florgasm
    Heretic
    Florgasm
    goop, $165
    SHOP NOW

*Toxic Beauty premiered at the 2019 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on April 29 and screens around the country on December 11. For locations and times, go here.

Johnson & Johnson still sells talcum-based baby powder, though it did recall a single lot of the product in 2019 after an FDA test indicated the presence of subtrace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination in samples from a single bottle purchased from an online retailer. (The brand also sells a baby powder containing cornstarch as an alternative to talc.)

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