This week, a new documentary exposing the ugly side of the beauty industry was released on Amazon and iTunes. Award-winning Toxic Beauty follows the class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and the personal stories of the plaintiffs; women with cancer fighting for justice in a race against time with this deadly disease.
One of Toxic Beauty’s main subjects is Boston University medical student, Mymy Nguyen. The documentary also follows Mymy’s human experiment as she measures her chemical body burden from over 27 products while scientists monitor her shocking results. We chatted with Mymy about her experience in the documentary and how it has impacted her life beyond filming. Enjoy the trailer, and below, our interview with Toxic Beauty’s Mymy Nguyen!
C'EST MOI: How did you get involved with the documentary Toxic Beauty?
MYMY: I was working in the Mahalingaiah Lab during the Ovulation and Menstruation Health Study, and connected with Phyllis [Ellis, the filmmaker] during the project. She approached me with the idea of doing a project about the harmful culture of unsafe or untested products in the beauty industry. I was already doing research on how different toxins affect women's health, and so the Toxic Beauty documentary felt almost like an extension of that work.
MOI: What caused you to first become interested in toxic-free beauty products?
MYMY: I had a personal experience that forced me to ask myself what effects cosmetics had on my health. It forced me to look in the mirror and think about the real impact it has on me and my community.
MOI: What are some of the most surprising things you learned from your research on this topic?
MYMY: I was most surprised by how difficult it was to actually figure out what was going on with my body. There are myriad of obstacles that I likely would not have been able to get past without the help of the production team around me.
MOI: In the film, you turn yourself into an experiment by purging all your “regular" products for “clean” products and have your toxicity levels tested and compared. Can you give us some examples of what you stopped using and what you used instead? Also, What was the hardest part of doing this?
MYMY: It's less about the specific things that I've changed than it is about the intent and consciousness that I now put into organizing my daily routine. I’ve switched over to using brands like Overtone, which I think is a leader in the movement towards making products more health and environment-conscious.
Obviously, personal care products cannot feasibly be under the same scrutiny as drugs, and I do not think that companies should be pushed out of the market, but it is incredibly important that consumers are at least aware of the choices they are making.
MOI: What was your biggest “a-ha" moment after this experiment and do you still stick with a clean beauty regimen?
MYMY: I wouldn't call it an “a-ha” moment per se, but I think now I have an appreciation for how much of the personal care industry is fueled by money rather than actually catering to their customers. My daily routine now is certainly cleaner than it was, but I think there is still a place for most products and companies. It's most important that customers have as much information as possible, not necessarily that we only sanction certain products.
MOI: When you see friends and family using products that may not be “clean,” does it make you want to lecture them?
MYMY: I definitely feel an urge to let my friends know when I think a product is unsafe. I think many people would be making different decisions about their daily routine if they knew all of the information that is out there.
MOI: How do you think the beauty industry can evolve to make consumers understand the importance of using clean and toxic free products?
MYMY: The main thing that can and should change is transparency. It's too much to expect all beauty products to be fully tested, but if the public had all of the information accessible, there is no doubt that people would be making different decisions.
MOI: As a medical student, how do you plan on continuing to empower and educate the public about this?
MYMY: Being a medical student, I am in a unique position with access to not only a robust patient population, but also the healthcare infrastructure. As I continue in my career, my goal is to involve myself more in both the healthcare and private sectors, expanding the campaign for clean products as much as possible.
Wondering how you can impact change beyond the products you use?
Here are a few ways:
Tell congress to support safer cosmetics and use #BeautyMadeBetter on your social posts. Support the Truth about Talc campaign and the Ban Talc campaign and use #TossTheTalc.
Thank you to Mymy for sitting down with us to discuss the importance of clean beauty, something we’re deeply passionate about at C’est Moi. Want to make sure you’re only using the safest products? Search for them on EWG’s Skin Deep Database.