Searching for Safer Alternatives: Our Review of ‘Toxic Beauty’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - September 21, 2019
Searching for Safer Alternatives: Our Review of ‘Toxic Beauty’

When hearing about Phyllis Ellis’ Toxic Beauty, audiences can assume that it’s about chemicals in makeup products. But a lot of products fall under bracket, like the baby powder that Johnson and Johnson still sells. Powder that women used to put all over their bodies until they started to have health problems. This documentary amplifies the voices and stories of those women before it shows any statistics or victims’ names. It’s an interesting approach, ensuring that audiences remember that corporations affect people just like you and me.

Toxic Beauty eventually does the digging for us, talking to doctors who see an uptick in certain cancers. These experts, both male and female, eventually connected these diseases to the products they use on their bodies. There’s something both cold and economical about when it talks to both the victims and the doctors. The warmth we normally see in informational documentaries that introduce a hope for these victims isn’t there. These people are still fighting for that ending and this documentary remembers this, keep their presentation tastefully somber.

The person bridging those two groups of victims and their doctor allies is the young Mymy Nguyen. Nguyen uses these products every but she’s becoming cognizant of their adverse effects as a person studying medicine. She reads literature about the subject that takes her on a quest to meet other medical experts. Doing so reminds us that there are people who dislike makeup on women, shaming them for using it. Toxic Beauty, thankfully, doesn’t shame women, instead preferring that safer makeup is available for them to consume.

Johnson and Johnson, wisely enough, did not participate in the making of this documentary against them. Nonetheless, that corporation still tries to reassure their buyers that their products are safe for them to consume daily. This archive footage of these villains are the only colorful moments in an otherwise understandably stark movie. I’ve seen more egregious examples of corporate villainy in films like this, and this presents that binary subtly. But that tendency is still there, and I’m still wary about the ways docs paint the bad guy.

Nonetheless, I’m willing to let go of that one nitpick because this documentary is still about people. The movie is cognizant of its demographics who are mostly women from all races and racial backgrounds. Nguyen is already our POC contingent, following the footsteps of women of color who are experts on medicine. These women connect their use of these products to this unshakable idea of a certain standard of beauty. It’s important, then, to see how these products harm women of color, already not getting proper healthcare.

It lastly shows men as part of the conversation as allies, fellow victims, and unfortunately, the perpetrators. The doctors that the documentary talk to are men, who also use products like shampoo and body wash. Men mourn their female relatives that they lose because of these poisonous products, or become victims themselves. White men have also been the CEOs of Johnson and Johnson, who don’t care about what these victims lose. We’re all in this together and we need to know the chemicals that are slowly killing us.

For more information on Toxic Beauty go to

  • Release Date: 9/20/2019
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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