Like talc, the Notorious RBG Ruth Bader Ginsburg vintage shirt But I will love this potential dangers of parabens and phthalates are hotly debated, one reason being these molecules are tiny and are theoretically filtered out of the body via the liver. But as Ellis says, “It’s not one product, it’s the accumulation of a number of products, and the reapplication of those products.” That’s the number of soaps, serums, concealers, and more that Mymy Nguyen, a 24-year-old medical student at Boston University and one of the documentary’s star subjects, reaches for each morning. “I’m always chasing this kind of look, this kind of aesthetic,” Nguyen tells Vogue. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to look a certain way. It’s part of who I am and how I dress.” Still, when Nguyen connected with Ellis, she was curious to see how her beauty routine (Clairol shampoo, Fenty Beauty foundation) affected her chemical body burden, especially after a recent brush with a benign breast tumor. Toxic Beauty follows Nguyen as she submits to three blood tests over three days: one after her usual 27-step regimen, one after a zero-product detox day, and one after switching over to clean beauty products. The results, revealed in the film’s final moments, are staggering: On a typical day, Nguyen’s phthalate levels were five times higher and her paraben levels were 35 times higher than when she switched to nontoxic cosmetics. I think there’s definitely a connection between phthalates and parabens and [health issues], but I don’t think these things are meant to cause any harm,” the medical student says. “With a lot of the girls I talk to, we love helping each other find new products and lifting each other up. Beauty is a very empowering kind of thing.” To Ellis, this speaks to the manipulative power of marketing, which can be just as toxic as the products it promotes. “We have to change these beauty norms so women don’t have to choose between their health and trying to look beautiful,” she states. “I really believe this is a women’s health issue.” And even more so for women of color. Products aimed at minority women—skin-lightening creams, hair-straightening treatments—“have higher levels of carcinogens and toxicants,” Ellis says. Research from the Environmental Working Group shows that one in 12 beauty products marketed to black women contains toxic substances, with less than 25% of products in the space considered low in potentially hazardous ingredients.
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