I’m sure it will be no surprise that one of my favorite ways to relax on a Friday night is by cozying up on the couch with my pup, a big glass of biodynamic wine, and turning on a documentary that will further help me live a healthy and sustainable life! Documentaries, specifically ones focused on our health or the health of our planet, are great because they dial things down in a way that makes it easy to understand and create an actionable plan in our everyday lives.
I created a list of some awesome documentaries that I highly recommend if you’re interested in living a more health-focused life. These documentaries all expose the countless health and food system problems in America (there are MANY), and what we can do as consumers to become healthier for ourselves, and the planet. Each film is heart-wrenching in different ways, sometimes controversial, and all equally important and entertaining! 📺
Not So Pretty
It’s easy to want to run to your makeup bag or bathroom cabinet immediately following this four-part documentary series (2022) that exposes the cosmetic and personal care industries. Narrated by the adorably engaging Keke Palmer, each episode narrows in on a different subject: makeup, nails, skin, and hair, and then highlights the negative side of each one.
At the end of the day, these industries all have one major thing in common: making money. Throughout the film, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick investigate these trillion-dollar industries, uncovering the deep, dark secrets about how far they will go to make a profit, with zero regard for the health and safety of their customers. Although the manufacturers involved have denied that their products are harmful, many claims have been made regarding very serious health concerns such as skin problems, memory loss, reproductive issues, scalp sores, and even cancer.
The common denominator between all four episodes is the absolute disregard and lack of control the FDA has over the beauty industry. For example, just because they are required to list their ingredients, there are loopholes. If a product lists “fragrance” as an ingredient, that fragrance alone could contain any of the 4,000 chemicals used in scent products.
Let’s just say, for being a film about makeup and personal care products, this is very far from pretty stuff 😣
The series starts out with episode one exposing very popular makeup and beauty brands and their high levels of toxins, specifically asbestos. They use an example of a mother buying a makeup kit for her daughter from the popular store Claire’s. After feeling skeptical about her daughter using the product, she decides to get it tested in a lab, and the results reveal that asbestos is present. This is even more upsetting considering that Claire’s denied all claims and insisted their products were tested. Hmm, really makes you wonder what companies you can trust, huh? Another woman in the film was interviewed who was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at 26 years old after years of working in the makeup industry. YIKES.
The following three episodes highlight nails, skin, and hair with similar scenarios. And all terrifying health concerns aside, the film also reveals just how detrimental the health and beauty industry is to the environment. The cosmetic industry alone produces 120 billion packages each year, with most of them ending up in landfills. And this includes “recyclable” materials!
Although this series is slightly horrifying, I definitely recommend it. We all have purchasing power, and it’s super critical to know where our money is going and what companies it’s supporting. Not only that, but it really drives home just how important it is to opt for clean beauty whenever possible!
Watch Not So Pretty Here on HBO
Stink! is a 2015 documentary that exposes the chemical industry’s outrageous efforts to conceal the thousands of toxic ingredients found in our everyday household items. Throughout the film, filmmaker Jon Whelen interviews consumer-advocacy and health organization experts and shares his own personal story in becoming involved in activism against toxic chemicals as a single father.
Whelen’s main mission in this documentary is to get to the bottom of why his daughter’s pajamas have a synthetic stink. After going through extensive testing, he learns that the pajamas contained Di[2-ethylhexyl], a phthalate, and Tris[2-chloroethyl] phosphate, a fire retardant, and possible carcinogen. Throughout the film, he focuses on these chemical groups and how dangerous they are to consumers.
Related post: “Why I Ditched Synthetic Fragrances (& Best Natural Perfumes to Use Instead)“
The documentary explains in horrifying detail how consumer manufacturers don’t have to list chemicals that are used for a product’s odor. Because of this, they list “fragrances” as a catch-all term. To make matters worse, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can do anything about it, due to these chemical ingredients being protected as a “trade secret” by the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Yikes 😳
The ultimate solution, according to the film, is to force companies into disclosing their ingredient list. This way, consumers have the ability to make their own informed decisions about their health. This documentary is ideal for anyone who is interested in lessening their toxic load, and let’s be honest, who isn’t?
Kiss the Ground
Kiss the Ground is a 2020 solutions-based documentary, narrated by Woody Harrelson, that focuses on regenerative agriculture and how with it, we can balance the climate, get species off the extinction list, replenish the water supply, and better feed the world 🌱
I think we can all agree that we would love to help balance the climate, but it sounds like a big undertaking. How on earth can we do our part? This documentary by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell gives easy ways in which we can take small steps every day to chip in, including eating a more plant-based diet, composting, and making our own gardens.
Regenerative agriculture, however, is the big-ticket item to lessening our impact on the planet. The film tunes in on how it can be applied anywhere in the world and help reverse the effects of desertification through crop diversity, livestock grazing, and biosequestration, which is the process of capturing and storing carbon in plants, microbes, and other organisms.
All in all, I really recommend this film to anyone who is interested in taking simple, easy steps every day to help lessen their impact on the planet. It’s on Netflix!
The Devil We Know
The Devil We Know is a 2018 investigative documentary by Stephanie Soechtig about the dangers of Teflon, and the secrets that were covered up for decades by the DuPont Corporation. The film focuses on the impact of the chemicals found in Teflon, and other DuPont products, including birth defects and other issues that have increasingly surfaced among factory workers and nearby residents ☣️
The film outlines how the town of Parkersburg, where Teflon manufactures its products has been hit especially hard with horrific ailments, such as horribly disfigured children and other severe health issues. It is said that these toxic chemicals have been found in the blood of 99.7% of Americans–a truly horrifying statistic that kept me wanting to watch and learn more.
As someone who loves to cook at home, this documentary was so informative and further encouraged me to share products that I believe in that are much healthier options for our daily lives. Although Teflon may be convenient and easy to use, the toxic exposure when using these products is absolutely not worth it. Especially when there are so many other better options out there! 🥘
(also on Netflix!)
Alternatively, if documentaries aren’t your style, you could watch the 2019 movie called Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. The premise is similar and follows a corporate environmental defense attorney’s action against DuPont.
Check out my Green Kitchen Guide which has an entire section about safer cookware options:
A Complete Guide to Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly Kitchen Supplies
This documentary by filmmaker Phyllis Ellis outlines a three-year investigation of the unregulated chemicals that are found in personal-care products. Released in 2019, it follows the class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, and the personal stories of women who continue to fight for justice. It reviews the research behind parabens (a class of preservatives) and phthalates (plasticizers commonly found in fragrances) which are both considered endocrine disruptors, or toxic chemicals that interfere with the body’s natural hormones. Over time, these disruptors can lead to things like hormone imbalance, allergies, infertility, early puberty, and even cancer.
Toxic Beauty zeroes in on the manipulative power of marketing, and how women oftentimes are choosing between their own health and the pressure to look beautiful. For years, various health and beauty items around the world have had strict regulations to avoid toxic chemicals that can cause health concerns, many brands being banned. In Europe alone, 1,300 toxic cosmetic chemicals are banned. The United States, however, is lagging with only 11, since the 1930s 💄
Additionally, the film uses a “human experiment” as Boston University medical student Mymy Nguyen measures her chemical body burden from over 27 different beauty products. The results are shocking and definitely worth watching.
It’s no surprise that this documentary struck a chord with me, as someone who is passionate about clean beauty. I think this is an extremely important film for all women to watch, as so many people are not aware of the risks they are taking with their daily beauty routines.
Looking to start swapping out your beauty products for safer alternatives? Check out this post 👉 Green Beauty Starter Pack: 12 Essential Items to Add to Your Routine
The Business of Birth Control
This 2021 documentary by Emmy Award-winning television host, Abby Epstein and veteran film producer, Ricki Lake does a deep dive into the history and dangers of oral contraceptives and other hormone-based birth control as well as the industry’s racist history and controversial practices. It also walks through the cultural shift toward body awareness that has been occurring over the last decade, in which women are finally feeling empowered to take a stand for their health by looking for answers and seeking information.
According to Lake and Epstein, “There is a severe lack of awareness of how hormonal birth control affects people’s bodies and their mental health.” At the end of the day, most women are not educated about what they are putting into their bodies, including the ingredients or risks, sometimes until it is too late. For example, a heartbreaking story is highlighted in the film in which Erika Langhart, 24, died of a pulmonary embolism that was caused by the NuvaRing. Her family went on to raise awareness of the effects of birth control.
Throughout the film, young women are interviewed, sharing their experiences with depression, hormonal issues, and more. One example that was shared is a study out of Copenhagen which found that girls between the ages of 15 and 19 who were taking oral contraceptives had an 80% chance of being depressed. And to think that it could have been prevented with proper education!
Related post: “How to Use the Fertility Awareness Method for Birth Control & Best BBT Thermometer“
The film interviews well-known medical experts and reproductive health advocates such as FLO Living founder, Alissa Vitti and Beyond The Pill author, Dr. Jolene Brighten. These experts share their knowledge on birth control and the harsh realities that come with taking them. Both of these women are highly educated and are resources that I’d recommend looking into if you’re just getting started on your female health education journey.
This film is not only crucial for women in their reproductive years, but for anyone who has a daughter, niece, or friend who deserves the truth about what they’re potentially putting into their bodies.
Watch The Biz of Birth Control Here
The True Cost
The True Cost, created by filmmaker Andrew Morgan in 2015, highlights the grim impacts of fast fashion. While the price of clothing has decreased, human and environmental costs continue to grow tremendously. From the poor conditions of the workers to the environmental impacts on the planet, this film does a great job driving the main point home that The True Cost of cheap clothing is extremely high.
Morgan travels around the world for this documentary to highlight the people who make fast fashion. This film can be a little hard to watch at times, as it shows real-life gruesome tragedies due to factory-made clothing in developing countries. From factory fires and building collapses, to factory workers getting skin cancer, digestive and liver problems, and more, it really makes you think long and hard about what your clothing is actually worth 👚
Related post: “9 Sustainable Fashion Brands for a Simple Wardrobe (+ All Budgets!)“
The film also depicts the extremely detrimental effects of fast fashion on the earth, from pesticide-infused cotton fields in India to massive landfills in Haiti. Additionally, the insanely high amount of chemicals that are continuously dumped into the waters of developing countries is causing a severe rise in cancer and birth defects.
If you’re interested in learning more about where your clothing comes from and willing to make a change in how you consume, I think this documentary is a good place to start!
I know that watching documentaries like these can sometimes be overwhelming. I don’t know about you, but I almost always want to overhaul my life for the greater good immediately. But remember, a healthy and mindful lifestyle can start with small steps that eventually lead to a big difference! Have you watched any of these documentaries? I’d love to hear in the comments below if you did and how they may have changed your thinking!