(2019) Documentary (1091) Mel Lika, MyMy Nguyen, Deanne Borg, Mary Kaplan, Shaeda Farooqi, Beverly Robinson, Claudette Dupris, Emily Nguyen, Dr. Shruthi Mabaiangala. Directed by Phyllis Ellis
Beauty may well only be skin deep, but the products that men and women use for beauty and hygiene have effects far deeper than that in this chilling documentary. Revolving largely around the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson that claimed that the company knew that there were carcinogens in their talcum powder that were routinely used not just for baby care but also for skin care – one woman remarked that she liked to sprinkle the stuff in her bed because she like the scent, the film builds its case much like a trial lawyer – with plenty of anecdotal evidence backed up by science.
There are several compelling characters to be found in the film, among them former intelligence officer Mel Lika who found herself, once thought to be something of a superhero among her peers, stricken by ovarian cancer. Likewise was the case of Deanne Borg, the South Dakota mom who instigated the suit against Johnson and Johnson. My favorite though is med student and fashion/make-up influencer MyMy Nguyen, who was brought up to admire the European standard of beauty and was urged by her mom to lighten her skin and dye her hair blonde. When a tumor was found in her breast, rather than chalking her experience to bad luck she decided to run some tests to find up if her make-up routine was contributing to her disease. She approached it logically and thoroughly and the results that came back were definitely disturbing.
We hear from litigators, legislators, medical professionals, researchers, scientists and of course, victims. Ellis doesn’t shortchange her audience with facts, although the parade of testimony can be overwhelming, and the scientific evidence presented can be on the dry side. Some may find themselves getting glassy-eyed at times, but stick with this – it’s important stuff. Men who may be thinking “well, that’s a woman’s problem,” should think again; toxic chemicals like mercury, formaldehyde, arsenic and lead can be found in shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste.
Readers who live in the European Union may be pleased to know that stricter regulations there make this particular problem more of an American issue. Lobbyists and lawyers have essentially suborned the FDA and Congress into writing legislation friendly to large corporations so that they may continue to maximize profits by using less expensive materials and processes at the expense of human lives, and as we meet some of the women involved here and discover how these products that are supposed to be safe have destroyed lives and yes, taken them (one of the victims here passed away shortly after filming was completed).
There is unlikely to be any help anytime soon, particularly with the business-friendly Republicans in power. The corporations have the kind of money that buys politicians; consumers do not. The short-term solution is simple; stop buying this shit. There are clean products out there; find out what they are and start using them. If enough people start doing it, either these businesses will adjust to the new paradigm or fail. Survival of the fittest applies to consumerism as well.
This isn’t an easy documentary to watch and at times you may feel like you’re back in high school chemistry and just as clueless now about it as you were then. Hang in there; it is important that you know what you are putting on and, in your body, information big corporations (and some little ones) don’t want you to have. Knowledge is power; use it.
REASONS TO SEE: Presents a powerful case.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be guilty of overkill – some of the information presented gets a little bit dense.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scientific studies on the subject warned about toxic substances in beauty and hygiene products as far back as 1933.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stink!
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Olympic Dreams