Coming clean about cosmetics with Toxic Beauty

How to detox your morning routine from the chemical-laden products you use daily.

Filmmaker Phyllis Ellis hopes to send you scrambling to the shower to search out labels on your soap and shampoo. After all, her eye-opening documentary Toxic Beauty (trailer below; streaming now on CBC Gem) not only follows the class-action suit against Johnson & Johnson—and the company's cancer-linked baby powder—but Ellis also uncovers an unregulated amalgam of alarming toxicity in many over-the-counter personal-care products.

"I don't think the onus should be on the consumer to decipher a label with a word that has 750 letters," says the filmmaker. "I do think, keep it simple."

Here, we round up some of the worst offenders in your morning routine and drop local, non-toxic alternatives worth considering.


May contain: formaldehyde (DMDM Hydantoin), endocrine disruptors
Linked to: allergies, depression, cancer

"If you look on a label and see the word 'fragrance' or 'parfum,' don't use it," insists Ellis of most shampoos. "Fragrance in a product is proprietary so the company that makes that brand does not have to disclose what's in that word (which) can contain 200 to 1,000 chemicals."

That means the best way to make all days good hair days is to switch to a shampoo bar, like the Daytona Shampoo Bar available through eco-beauty and zero-waste haven The Tare Shop (5539 Cornwallis Street). The Daytona bar is SLS-, paraben- and phthalate-free and gets your 'do clean without stripping it of its natural oils.


May contain: endocrine disruptors, formaldehyde
Linked to: reproductive issues, tumours, hormone disruption

"When we had the film screen in London, [breast cancer researcher] doctor Philippa Darbre told the audience 'I would not let anyone I love use deodorant,'" says Ellis.

Maybe it's time to give your drug store tube a break and go for an aluminum- and phthalate-free option, like Earth Elements Natural Deodorant. The company, a Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market staple, is big into proving clean and green aren't in opposition, with an extensive range of body powder, soaps and home cleaning agents stocked alongside deodorant in scents like lemon grass and French lavender.

Nail polish

May contain: toluene, acetone
Linked to: dermatitis, lung disorders, miscarriage

Toluene "is linked to birth defects and all kinds of problems," says Ellis. "Anything that adheres for an extended period of time can't be awesome."

Water-based polish has long been the secret to a fresh mani amongst the hippie set, but formula improvements mean natural polish has more staying power than you'd think. Score a perfect 10 with options free of ethyl acetate, butyl acetate and acetone, like Acquarella nail polish. Find it at the natural-focused spa Bradshaw Pure Esthetics (1556 Queen Street) which, FYI, is a space that's also stocked with 100 percent organic facial masks and serums made in-house.

Face cream

May contain: endocrine disruptors, mercury, coal tar
Linked to: cognitive dysfunction, tremors, insomnia

"Anything that lightens your skin has mercury," says Ellis. "And a lot of eye products have coal tar."

Make sure you're keeping your complexion safe by opting for a plant-based option, like Osha Mae's carrot cream. Derived from carrot seed and brimming with essential oils, it's a skin softener that'll still help address aging skin concerns thanks to heavyweight ingredients like argan oil and squalene—ingredients that made skincare giant The Ordinary Company go viral. Hit up Osha Mae at the Seaport Market.

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