Article by: Perry Romanowski

**NOTE: This post was written in 2012 and at the time was accurate. The EWG has changed some aspects of their Skin Deep Database which prompted the writing of this fresh look at why the EWG Skin Deep Database is a dubious resource.****

If you work in the cosmetic industry, then you should know about the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their off-shoot group the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The EWG focuses on providing information while the CFSC attempts to get legislation passed. Ostensibly, they are consumer advocacy groups who endeavor to ensure that cosmetic manufacturers produce only safe products.

A laudable goal and one that all cosmetic chemists can get behind.

However, cosmetic chemists, formulators and the cosmetic industry already support this goal so the cosmetic products we produce are already safe. The EWG & CFSC are unnecessary.

But I’m certain that the good folks at these groups would disagree. From their perspective cosmetics are not safe. And cosmetic chemists can not be trusted to create safe formulas. They seem to believe that there are cosmetic chemists who want to create formulas that will poison their families and cause widespread cases of cancer. They don’t think very much of cosmetic chemists or formulators.

Problems with these groups

The primary place that consumers (and beauty bloggers) find out about the EWG is through their online ingredient resource called the Skin Deep database. It’s an interesting concept and they’ve clearly put a lot of work into it. Unfortunately, it is full of misleading information & many things that are just wrong.

Skin Deep database Flaws

There are a few obvious flaws in the database that have been pointed out to the EWG but they don’t seem interested in changing them. Here is what I mean.

False information

There is false information in the database but they don’t seem interested in fixing it. For example, they have a listing for Polyparaben. They even give it a chemical rating and call it an endocrine disruptor. Unfortunately, there is no chemical called polyparaben. It doesn’t exist. How they managed to come up with a toxicity score and links to studies about a non-existent chemical is baffling and it certainly doesn’t build faith in the reliability of their data. If they had a cosmetic chemist review the information they were putting up before entering it into the database, perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem. Clearly, they don’t. And they don’t care to fix it because this has been pointed out to them directly.

Nonsense ratings

Creating a hazard score is a dubious activity anyway (since it is the dose that makes the poison) but they aren’t even consistent within their own scoring system. For example, they have listings for both Sodium Coceth Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Cosmetic chemists know that these compounds are essentially identical with minimal differences. But somehow the Sodium Coceth Sulfate gets a 0 hazard score, while Sodium Laureth Sulfate gets a 4 hazard. This makes no sense.

Belief not science

Perhaps the worst thing about the EWG Skin Deep database is that they are unwilling to modify their conclusions when new evidence comes to light. They base their actions on a belief and use science only when it supports what they want to believe. Since they are a politically motivated group, they are unable to accept new science which might indicate an ingredient is more safe than previously thought. There is not a single instance of them changing their stance on any cosmetic ingredient.

No courage of their convictions

But the most galling thing about the EWG is that they are hypocrites who either don’t believe what they say or are more interested in making money off people than protecting them from “dangerous” products. For example, they list a Hall of Shame for sunscreens. In it they list specific products that are typical of “…what’s wrong with the sun protection business.” Of course, this does not stop them from making money through their Amazon Affiliate program by selling those same products. For example, they list Aveeno Baby Protection Sunblock as a Hall of Shame sunscreen because it is dangerous for babies but they’ll happily take your money if you want to buy the product.

This means they either do not care that they are making money off of products that they believe are dangerous…or…they don’t believe the products are really dangerous.

Either way, it’s shifty.

EWG and cosmetic chemists

If the EWG & the CFSC is to be believed, cosmetic chemists are evil people who do not care about the safety of the formulas they create. I think this is BS.


  1. Lori

    Just because you’re paranoid does not mean someone is not out to get you and just because there is not a long term study on the use of a particular chemical does not mean it’s safe with prolonged use. Doing long term studies on some chemicals and combinations thereof may not be practical or ethical. I prefer to err on the side of caution and it saddens me that so may people have cancer and have no idea how they got it. Was it cosmetics, packaged food, pesticides, off-gassing of household furniture or who knows what? We live in a chemical soup and all you can do is avoid as many harmful or possibly harmful chemicals as you can and hope for the best.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      What you say is true. But it is also true that just because you avoid one problem doesn’t mean your solution won’t cause another problem. Often when you attempt to avoid a known ingredient, you could be exposing yourself to an unknown, worse ingredient.

      While we live in what you call a “chemical soup” we also are living longer and better than at any time in human history. These same chemicals you fear are the ones that have allowed society to grow & thrive.

      1. Lori

        I believe we are living longer because we have developed vaccines for previously fatal diseases and drugs and treatments for cancer and other diseases so we do live longer but we are not healthier per say.
        I’m not sure I understand how avoiding one problem you will cause another?
        If you avoid carcinogenic ingredients or endocrine disruptors for example in everyday products like cosmetics, cleaners or air fresheners and use safe alternative products like safe cosmetics and baking soda and vinegar, how could that expose you to an unknown or worse ingredient?

        1. Perry Romanowski

          The problem is that you call these things “safe alternatives”. Just review the toxicological information about baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

          “Acute Potential Health Effects: Skin: May cause mild skin irritation. Eyes: May cause mild eye irritation. Inhalation: May cause respiratory tract irritation. Symptoms may include coughing and sneezing. Ingestion: Symptoms of overexposure to Sodium Bicarbonate include thirst, abdominal pain, gastroenteritis, and inflammation of the digestive tract. Chronic Potential Health Effects: Skin: Repeated or prolonged skin contact may cause irritation, drying or cracking of the skin. Ingestion and Inhalation: Chronic toxicity usually occurs within 4 to 10 days following ingestion of very large amounts. Repeated or prolonged ingestion or inhalation of large amounts may cause metabolic abnormalities, and sodium retention. Metabolic abnormalities such as acidosis, hypernatremia, hypochloremia, alkalosis, hypocalcemia, or sodium retention may affect the blood, kidneys, respiration (cyanosis, apnea secondary to metabolic acidosis or pulmonary edema), and cardiovascular system (tachycardia, hypotension). Severe toxicity may also affect behavior/central nervous system/nervous system. Neurological changes may result from metabolic abnormalities. These may include fatigue, irritability, dizziness, mental confusion, paresthesia, seizures, tetany, cerebral edema Medical Conditions Aggravated by Exposure: Persons with pre-existing skin conditions might have increased sensitivity. Predisposing conditions that contribute to a mild alkali syndrome include, renal disease, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance, hypertension, sarcoidosis, congestive heart failure, edema, or other sodium retaining conditions”

          Potential Chronic Health Effects:

          We don’t know whether Baking Soda is a carcinogen because the testing hasn’t been done.

  2. Ve

    For example, the EWG website lists “Dead Sea Salt” with a “C” score under the product “Eco Olea Dishwasher Gel, Pine” and they also list it with a “1” score under the product “One With Nature Dead Sea Mineral Soap, Sea Salt.” It’s not the first time that I see different scores for the same ingredient. I tried to contact them through the “Contact Us” link on the website but got a response saying they do not respond to every message. When it comes to collecting donations they do make an effort to send endless emails, but when it comes to helping us understand the information they post, they do not make themselves available. That makes me uncomfortable and wary of trusting their information.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Thanks for the update. People should be skeptical of that organization.

  3. Gintare

    Hello, I was checking out Cetaphil’s daily facial cleanser and it contains methylparaben. So far I thought this ingredient increases the risk of hormonal changes and cancer. EWG says it causes endocrinal disruption but this product according to EWG causes no risk of cancer and developmental and reproductive toxicity. How?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Because Methylparaben doesn’t cause endocrinal disruption. You can’t trust what the EWG says.

  4. LA

    I do find that EWG rates many products or compounds as “1” simply because there is limited to no data about that product. Essential oils, “natural” extracts, etc. can be just as dangerous as chemicals with long, complicated names. I’ll take a well studied chemical rated a “3” with a long history of safe cosmetic use over a concentrated jungle flower oil (processed who knows where and how) with zero research behind it but EWG labels is a “1”.

  5. Eunice

    These comments are making me dizzy. I used to follow EWG but I can’t stand the data gaps. I really don’t like them anymore. And I do believe some of the information is misleading. How can you give a low score when there isn’t enough research to establish that score? Even though they have made many changes, I think they need a major makeover. I’m not a toxicology expert nor a chemist, but I do like to read the research papers that are available. I did have to educate myself to understand the “language” and I’m still learning new terms every day. I also have a problem with Dr Philippa Darbre. I admire her determination but she even says her research doesn’t prove much and further studies are necessary. I wish people would understand this. Perry, I want your opinion on Chem Trust? I just learned about them and haven’t decided yet. I read more about them.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      You make excellent points about the EWG. I’m not very familiar with Chem Trust. I looked at their website and it seems like only 1 of their staff has a science background and no one on the staff has a background in Toxicology. You have to wonder why there aren’t any toxicologists involved in a group who’s mission is to root out chemicals that would be harmful to humans and the environment.

  6. clyde

    There have been many products that have been manufactured that we were told were safe by our government and/or by the chemists who manufactured them either in ignorance or duplicity that have been tremendously harmful. Think thalidomide, DDT, PCB’s and many, many drugs currently in the marketplace and those that have been removed from the marketplace for the harm to humanity. Even if the chemists could be trusted to do the right thing CEO’s of companies are under tremendous pressure to produce an ever greater profit. They have been known to ignore laws and ethics and look at lawsuits by those harmed by their products as a cost of doing business. I would rather err on the side of caution and use EWG than to trust the government or profit driven companies.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      The system isn’t perfect but the vast majority of products don’t represent a problem. I would suggest you err on the side of truth. The EWG does not present the truth & they rely on fear to make their money. They even make money off selling “dangerous” (according to them) products themselves.

    2. Donna Guidry

      Well said!

  7. Keara

    I just wanted to mention that I just searched EWG’s site for polyparaben and it no longer appears anywhere. I’m not saying they’re any better at presenting useful or accurate information, just that they don’t list that ingredient anymore.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Thanks. Yes, this was written a few years ago so it’s good to learn they’ve updated their website. Still not science based though

  8. Vilma

    I’m from Brazil, and when I was a kid I didn’t have any sunscreen choice at all. My daddy the same and he had skin cancer some years ago. He is good now! I love America, and here my home now. Now, I go to my groceries I can only pick up one and for a very good price. It doesn’t not happen everywhere. Trust me!
    I don’t care about ratings. I have options to protect my skin and it has worked pretty well so far. What EWG has done for me? Make me confused and scared. No thank you! I will keep thankful for everything I have here. Hope not become one more complainer who has everything for granted.

  9. April

    Perry, I am impressed by your patience in listening to and addressing each person’s individual (and often misinformed) take on this issue. So glad you will be heading the SCC… maybe we can create a more user-friendly way for laymen to better understand and separate fact from fiction?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Thanks April! I will do what I can with the SCC. In the meantime you should see our consumer focused website

  10. Sanya

    Perry, the comments you’re writing are comical. And you’re always repeating-if you are afraid of using makeup, don’t use it. So, if I am scared of what is in our water and food, I should stop taking them as well? It doesn’t matter what is or is not essential for surviving, it is what we use in everyday life. Also, you’re eating your own words, by saying how all these sites are just scaring us, with no actual evidence or scientific facts. But, where are yours? You do not give enough evidence to support your arguments. Employ a scientist, open up your own site, supported by scientific fact, ingredient by ingredient. I would be the first in line to use a site like that. Next you will be telling us that McDonalds is very healthy, because the government would not put out something that would do us harm. And then you just reply with-well, if you are afraid of McDonalds, simply don’t go there, because you don’t need McDonalds in order to survive. What an argument.
    If you want to be different from ewg, do something different then they are. Otherwise, you are no better then them.
    Thanks for reading.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      There is a science-based website for finding safety information. It’s right here.

      I will not be telling you McDonalds is healthy.

      Thanks for your comments.

    2. Donna Guidry

      Well said!

    3. Jennifer

      So many logical fallacies here. Thanks for your insights, Perry! I’ve been a longtime user of EWG, but admit that they played into my biases. I will be checking out the other resources you’ve provided — truth is more important to me than fear or “being right.”

  11. PB8815

    So, at the end of all of this we’re left with one question, “Where is the voice for the common man in the scientific community?” Where can the common, average, non-scientific person find a safe-haven for the products that he/she eats & puts on his/her body? Do we all really just have to go around guessing whether or not what we’re eating, drinking, and putting on our bodies is good for us or not? I’m guessing that the answer given will be for me to dive into research on every ingredient. I’m happy to do that, but most people aren’t…Sorry common man/woman, you’re screwed!

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Actually, I don’t think researching it yourself is a good idea. There is so much misinformation out there that if you don’t have a scientific background you could easily be fooled and mislead. You might not believe it but the FDA has done a pretty good job of protecting people from dangerous products both food and cosmetic. Prior to the existence of the FDA people were routinely being blinded or otherwise harmed by tainted cosmetics. This just doesn’t happen any more. People may worry about long-term exposure but there is scant evidence that this is a problem. If you are worried about cosmetics there is a simple solution…don’t use them. There is no health reason to use them. But for people who do use them there is no evidence that they represent any extra risk of a disease that will shorten your life. The evidence is just not there.

      My suggestion is that if you can buy the product in Target or Wallmart you should not worry about whether it is safe or not. It is safe. If you want to know more about the chemicals for academic interest see what they have to say on the CIR. But I think this is not a worthwhile endeavor for most people. We assume cars are safe but have no idea what goes on under the hood. We assume water from the tap is safe but have no idea how it’s treated. You can live your life in fear or you can just assume that the people who create these products are not interested in killing anyone. I know when I was formulating products for a big company I used all the products I made. My friends & family used these products. I was not interested in harming anyone. I don’t understand why anyone would assume chemists who make these products want to harm people.

      1. christy

        What a narrow-minded viewpoint. I am concerned about the products I put on and in my body, and I fully realize that people like you aren’t out to kill anyone. But there are a lot of people within corporations and organizations (the government included; you know that entity that is supposedly in place to support the best interests of the American PEOPLE) who are out to make money. Safe, ethically produced products are expensive to manufacture compared to those that are chemically and mass-produced. Products that harm people are made, marketed and sold on the shelves of about every store in every American neighborhood – because those products are good for business. Cheap to make and highly profitable.

        I’m insulted that you think average consumers like myself are stupid enough to believe that everything sold at Walmart (one l by the way…) is safe. The industry and the government stand to lose a LOT every time governing bodies ban a product. That conflict of interest means hundreds and thousands of products are questionably rated as safe for sale and use… and it’s the American people who lose.

        You should be ashamed of yourself for insinuating that the issues are so basic as to say the only motivator to manufacture harmful goods would be to harm people. They aren’t. And I’m pretty sure you probably know that. I’d venture a guess that you’re being paid off to put this kind of shallow, unfounded, ignorant content out into the world wide web. The irony is that you’re condemning a public interest group for publishing misinformation and in doing so you’re publishing your own misguided content. I sincerely hope your readers are smart enough to see through this rubbish. God help us if they don’t.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          You’re mistaken. Safe, ethically produced products are NOT expensive to manufacture.

          If I thought cosmetic products were unsafe I would tell people not to use them. If you are afraid of the cosmetics on the market, don’t use them. Cosmetics are not required to live a healthy life.

          1. Rosario

            “The United States has not passed a federal law to regulate the ingredients used in personal care products since 1938.
            The European Union has spent the past two decades banning or restricting more than 1,300 ingredients, the US has only banned 11 to date”
            Why would Europe ban 1,300 ingredients if they were not harmful for you?

          2. Perry Romanowski

            There are lots of reasons they would ban 1300 ingredients. But most likely it’s because they are people legislators and passing laws is what they do. Ask yourself, what are those 1300 ingredients? Are they even ingredients that are used in cosmetics? (hint: they aren’t).

            In fact, companies use the same ingredients and formulas in the US as they do in the EU. EU formulas are not more safe than the products bought in the US. So, banning 13, 1300 or 13,000 ingredients won’t matter if none of those are used in cosmetics in the first place.

            Incidentally, the EU has not banned Parabens or Petrolatum or Mineral Oil. So does that make them safe ingredients in your mind?

          3. Dana

            Do you not use soap, shampoo? This falls under personal care and cosmetics…

          4. Perry Romanowski

            Soap is not actually considered a cosmetic in the US. It is exempt from FDA regulation. Shampoo is a cosmetic however. Yes, I use shampoo.

      2. Donna Guidry

        Try that argument out on someone diagnosed with cervical cancer from using a well-known baby/bath powder containing talc… probably purchased at–you guessed it–Target or Walmart. I think you would have as much chance convincing them as you would have convincing me. Not in this lifetime.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          There is little scientific evidence that people got cervical cancer from using talc. If you could show evidence beyond anecdotal I could be convinced. What evidence would convince you that it wasn’t caused by talc?

      3. Maya Neal

        I appreciate your expertise and perspective, and find it somewhat reassuring. That being said, there is a big difference between being worried about a given cosmetic ingredient “killing” me and being worried about it potentially impeding the pursuit of OPTIMAL health. I am not worried about anything in cosmetics killing me, or even directly causing any disease. But I’m concerned that some of the ingredients may cause toxicity that could lead to, for example, systemic inflammation in the body, or disruption of immune function, which could then (indirectly) become one of many factors that might increase my risk of disease. Respectfully, your proposed solution of “well then just don’t use cosmetics” is rather dismissive and insensitive, and is perhaps best understood by the fact that you’re a male and may not understand why women use cosmetics. We don’t use use them just for the “fun” factor alone. We also use them because we are routinely objectified by society and held to rigid standards of physical “beauty” and the appearance of “youthfulness.” Some of us choose to ignore (or even fight against) those standards and suffer the social consequences of doing so. Others of us choose to simply deal with the world and its standards as find it, and spend our valuable time hunting for the perfect lipstick, hoping it won’t harm our health over the long term. Saying that we should stop using cosmetics just because we’re concerned about the chemicals being used in them isn’t a practical solution. A vastly more practical solution would be for us to be able to consult a handy and detailed resource like EWG’s Skin Deep, assuming we can trust it. You say we can’t. Ok. So do you know of another such resource that is as extensive and detailed, where one can plug product and/or chemical names into a data base and get a science-based opinion about toxicity? If yes, please share.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive or insensitive. I understand why people use cosmetics. What I was saying is that there is no measurable safety difference between cosmetics. Just because the EWG says there is that doesn’t mean they have evidence to back it up. If you are worried about toxic ingredients that lead to systemic inflammation then the only solution is that you should not use any cosmetics. This is because there is no proof that any replacement ingredient has a lower chance of leading to the problems you’ve suggested. If you want a source to trust look at the Cosmetic Ingredient Review site. They publish the toxicology evaluations of ingredients. Unfortunately, they don’t put a simple number by an ingredient so you can just tell if it is good or bad. But no system that puts a simple number by an ingredient exists that is reliable.

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  17. Maria

    thanks for this web site and your blog and your comments. Ingredients in cosmetics and lotions are tested for safety and carcinogenicity- if they cause cancer they are not allowed to go into the market. If it is found out that an ingredient causes cancer- teh product is taken off the market. Ingredients that make a health claim- as do the SPF ratings on sunscreens have to support that claim or change their labeling….that is the law and it is enforced by the FDA. Thank you for educating the public. There is so much misinformation being posted that it can be very hard to tell what is evidence-based and what is not.

    1. Kat

      I’m not sure what you guys have been told but there are only 11 ingredients that are banned per the FDA and the last law to be passed on cosmetic safety was in 1938. Do you have any idea the number of chemicals that can be invented in that amount of time? A ton. Since these chemicals aren’t prohibited (nor are they required to be listed), I will tell you that there are tons of chemicals that you would not want on your skin. Formaldehyde is one of these chemicals. You would be surprised at the amount of trash you will find on your personal care products ingredients list.

      1. Perry Romanowski

        You are misinformed.

        1. Gladys Cofrin

          I am not misinformed but you are only partially stating the facts and clearly you have a major bias. Everyone has a bias, even EWG, they are not perfect. But you make no effort to modify your bias, and so not many smart people will believe you. It’s not the chemists who are solely to blame, although you are for putting this online. Why won’t you answer Kat in the last comment? If she’s misinformed, then inform her. You say we don’t have to use cosmetics, that is true, but we do need shampoo, soap, floor cleaner, laundry soap etc etc. and as Kat says there is no law that requires the ingredients to be listed on the product.

          1. Perry Romanowski

            Thanks for your comments.

            I would modify my opinion if presented science-based evidence. The fact is that cosmetics as sold in the US are not less safe than those sold in the EU.

            There is a law requiring cosmetic ingredients to be listed.

            It is not true that you need to use shampoo. Lots of people live perfectly healthy lives without using shampoo.

            As far as floor cleaner, laundry soap & soap, these are not cosmetics and don’t fall under FDA regulations. The EWG skin deep database does not cover these products.

  18. Srdjana

    As far as I can tell, I do not see a listing for polyparaben on EWG. Not sure what you are referring too.
    Additionally, two chemicals which are “essentially identical with minimal differences” as you state, could actually have very different chemical properties and effects on a living organism. Just ask anyone that is in the pharmaceutical industry. Slight modifications of molecules are exactly what pharmacologists and chemists do to try and minimize side effects of a drug but still retain its beneficial properties.
    As for the rest of your claims about EWG, I am not sure that you are eligible to discuss ethical issues surrounding the only publicly available database that provides this type of information when you are willing to publish stuff online without checking all your facts first.

    All the best to you,

    1. Perry Romanowski

      This post was accurate when written (January 2012). Fortunately, the EWG has corrected the polyparaben mistake.

      While you are correct that two nearly identical chemicals can have very different properties, the two chemicals referred to in this post do not have measurable differences.

      The EWG database is not the only publicly available database providing information about the chemistry of raw materials used in the cosmetic industry. For example, this is a science-based database providing more reliable information.

      Thanks for your comments.

      1. PB8815

        Give me another site that is as easy to use as the EWG site is & then I’ll take a peek. However, if you expect everyone one in the USA to investigate every ingredient via the site then you’re nuts! I just went there & it took me 2-3 hours just to break down one ingredient & try to understand what the “scientists” were saying as far as how safe it is. So, if you think that the average American citizen will do that for every ingredient that he/she puts on his/her skin or into his/her body then I believe that you are certifiably crazy. Bottom line is that we need to have quick & accurate information to make informed decisions. So, please implore your cir-safety people to come up with something that will make sense to the average American. Then, you will be able to complete with EWG. Also, I hear a lot of negativity in your words about EWG. Well, where is the solution for an average person? Are we just to blindly believe that our government, food companies, and cosmetic companies have our best interests at heart? If we are to believe that then why did I watch my grandpa die of heart disease when I was 5 years old and why have I watched 3 friends die of cancer in their twenties? Is it because the scientists & society has our best interests at heart? Or, is it because if you can get some people addicted to food or beauty, then you can make them spend & spend & spend until they have given you not only all of their money, but their lives too? Bottom line is, our government, society, doctors, and scientists DO NOT have our best interests at heart unless they are working for an organization that is focused on health & not wealth.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          I would suggest if you are afraid of cosmetics, you should not use cosmetics. They are not needed to live a healthy life. If you want to be educated I’m sorry but the CIR is where the science is. Toxicology is a complicated subject. Just because the EWG tries to dumb it down for people and manipulate you in to believing erroneous things doesn’t mean it’s a good resource. Perhaps if they employed some toxicologists or chemists to help put together the database it might be worthwhile. Anyone can write anything about anything on the Internet. Just because a website is pretty and easy to look at doesn’t mean the information is true.

          1. Donna Guidry

            I am curious… did the CIR warn about the talc in baby/body powder, and, if it did, why wasn’t it pulled before women started getting ovarian cancer? Just sayin’

          2. Perry Romanowski

            Talc has never been proven to cause cancer.

  19. Steph

    I use to follow EWG and subscribe to their website. But as I read more and more about them, they are nothing more than a government driven, lobbyist riddled, special interest organization under the guise of a do good Consumer concerned non-profit. So sad. I unsubscribed.

  20. B

    I appreciate a good dialogue and scientific research. I treasure EWG for information on what is in my products. There are many chemicals used in USA and banned in other countries. I like to cut down on the toxic load wherever I can and that includes what I put on my skin and their work is important.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      What are the chemicals banned in other countries but used in cosmetics in the US?
      If you want to cut down on the toxic load you can just stop using cosmetics. They are not needed to live a healthy life. But changing one cosmetic for another will not measurably change the toxic load on your body.

      1. PB8815

        Are you serious? Have you ever really investigated just how bad our country is when it comes to regulation of items that we put in our mouths & on our skin? Did you even do a Google search before you posted this? Here are just a few articles that anyone can Google and find about chemicals that are banned in other countries, but still used in the good old USA. When can we all just admit that our food & cosmetic regulating authorities are a joke? As always, follow the money…You’ll end up seeing it flow directly to politicians from corporations & see just how much money those corporations make by “sponsoring” the politicians that write our laws. Anyway, back to the sites…Here are the first 10 that I found:

        Bottom line is, the food & makeup in our stores is mostly designed for addictive profit. The USA specializes in many things including heart disease, cancer, overeating, plastic surgery, and so on…But, the one thing we’re best at is marketing & sales! Heck, we can even get our own citizens to slowly kill themselves just by eating, drinking, and putting things on their body that they shouldn’t. ALL IN THE NAME OF PROFITS!!! Welcome to greed…Welcome to the USA!

        1. Perry Romanowski

          None of those are scientifically-based resources except the ACS site and they are not saying cosmetics are dangerous.. You’re quoting blogs as reliable sources of information? If you want to really understand the issue see what scientists and researchers who actually look into the subject are saying.

          1. Donna Guidry

            Yes, ask the scientists and researchers who investigated/studied the talc that is under investigation for causing ovarian cancer. Maybe they could help. Yeah, right.

          2. Perry Romanowski

            Scientists are the people who find links between ingredients and whatever they cause. It was scientists that discovered that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer.

  21. Kuki

    I am not someone who is getting uber paranoid over the safety of cosmetics, although I am trying to find out what products have the highest UVA protection since there currently is no rating like there is for UVB. So far the EWG is the only place I have found to show me how much UVA a product is blocking (although I’m not sure if this is something I can trust). Where can I find an easy list of products that block out the most UVA, other than EWG?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      The EWG would have no way of giving you accurate UVA ratings for sunscreens so you can’t really trust the information there. Sunscreens that contain Zinc Oxide, Mexoryl, and Avobenzone are the only ones that will significantly block UVA. Titanium dioxide will also block some UVA but if the product does not contain any of the 4 sunscreens mentioned, they will not significantly block UVA.

      1. spiderpillar

        Actually, if you’re willing to order sunscreens from outside the United States, there are quite a few better UVA blockers than avobenzone. Tinosorb M (bisoctrizole) and Tinosorb S (bemotrizinol) are quite possibly the two best UVA blockers out there. They’re approved in every country I’ve checked except for the United States. The FDA’s excuse for stalling on approving these ingredients is that sunscreens are regulated as drugs here, whereas in Europe they’re regulated as cosmetics. However, Australia also regulates sunscreens as drugs (the exact wording might be therapeutic goods or something similar) so the FDA’s argument is really kind of flimsy.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          You are correct that you could order other UVA blockers from the EU but there is no evidence that the sunscreens people get in the EU are better or safer than the ones we get here in the US.

  22. Taylor

    While I don’t follow the EWG guides religiously, I have yet to see anything wrong with the EWG. Also, true, anything is poisonous or toxic at high doses, but the problem is consumers usually don’t know how much of something is in their food or products. Not only that, there are just some chemicals that should not go in or on your body regardless (i.e. Glycerin which is used as antifreeze, electronic cigarette liquid, and internal combustion fuel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the same chemical used in antifreeze, electronic cigarette liquid, and internal combustion fuel in or on my body). Finally, it has been proven that some chemicals cause rashes and other problems in some people.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Water is used in antifreeze too. Are you going to stop drinking water? The fact that an ingredient is used for various applications is not a good reason to avoid it.

    2. KitKat

      FYI….. There are different forms of Glycerin (don’t toss them all under the bus…)
      Glycerin comes from: Vegetable/Plants; Animal fat; or is a Petroleum product

      1/ “Vegetable glycerin, or glycerol, is a clear, odorless liquid produced from plant oils…”
      2/ Glycerol from animal fats comes from animal triglycerides, one type of fat molecule commonly found in animal blood and the major component of an animal’s fatty tissue
      3/ In some cases, glycerine may come from a synthetic source, generated in the laboratory as a product of chemical reactions beginning with petroleum. However, the market for synthetic glycerine has diminished over time, since glycerine from natural sources is readily available as a byproduct of several industrial processes, including soapmaking and biodiesel production

      1. Perry Romanowski

        Once the ingredient is Glycerin it’s origin has no impact on the way the ingredient performs or its level of safety. Molecules don’t remember where they came from.

  23. Maya

    Actually I came across a shaving creme that listed ‘polyparaben’ as part of it’s ingredients… It may just be there because some companies have listed in their ingredients. Who knows?
    Anyway, I don’t see what’s wrong with EWG, there is a lot of good information and from what I have been seeing most of it is correct. Just because a chemist has formulated a product does not mean it’s safe. Please tell me why the US still allows sales of products containing hydroquinone for example, yet other nations have banned it? Obviously our lovely chemists and doctors are working for a paycheck.

    1. Anna

      Hydroquinone hasn’t been banned in general, it’s been banned when used as a skin-lightening agent. It has been found to be harmful when ingested, which is why the US still allows it only in its current use, which is topical application.

      1. Perry Romanowski

        It’s actually not banned in the EU. You just need a doctor’s prescription to get it. It is disallowed in over the counter products. In the US, Hydroquinone is an OTC drug.

  24. No-no

    For decades researchers and doctors said cigarettes were perfectly safe. Remind me again, what happened with that? Watch, the same thing is going to happen to half of the ingredients used in our cosmetics and hygiene products.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      What happened was scientists discovered there was a problem and scientists were the ones who had to convince people to stop smoking. Not lawyers and PR people like the EWG. If there is a problem with cosmetic ingredients it will be scientists who discover it. That hasn’t happened.

    2. Donna Guidry

      Well said.

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  27. Rob G.

    Lets be real here. There are thousands of colors, dyes, additives, that are carcinogens and endoctrine disruptors, ect… that are used in the food, cosmetic and even consumer goods and are only used for the sake of profit or convenience. The argument seems to be that their level of toxicity is low. Please. Its in everything you buy in the stores. Even the produce is loaded with chemicals unless you buy organic. Even then, depending where the country of origin is, you are under the gun. There is a reason why 1 out of 2 people are getting some form of cancer. You professional chemists are not purposely poisoning people but you are only going by what you have been taught, what the fda and other governing bodies pass as acceptable. Our liver is an great organ and keeps us safe, but we are being overloaded with everything.

    Just get the poisons out of our water, foods and personal care items. At least Ewg is making an effort to warn us. You chemists should create your own site to help the cause. Each chemist take on one chemical and do a study to help the population.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      The EWG is simply scaring you and it seems you’ve bought into the scare stories. Everything is toxic or a poison. You can’t remove it from the water, food, or personal care products. Even water is toxic when ingested at high enough levels.

      What you seem to ignore is the fact that since industrial chemicals were introduced into the environment the average human life expectancy has increased. And it continues to increase. Cancer is a disease of older people so it’s no surprise that as the population gets older you’ll hear about more people getting cancer. But if you look at the numbers nearly all cancer deaths are decreasing.

      I fail to see what benefit removing what you or the EWG consider poisons out of cosmetics. How much longer do you want to live? 80, 90, 150 years?

      1. Helen

        Perry, Could not disagree with you more. First, cancer is not a disease of older people. The oncologists, and scientists looking for cancer cures who I know and have spoken with actually say that cancer is hitting people at younger ages all of the time. And not everybody does survive. I have several friends who have died from cancer just in the last year or two, and they were not older.

        Also, you make it sound as though dying from cancer is the only thing at issue. Let me assure you that GETTING cancer is something you would not want for yourself or any loved one. I speak from knowledge, because I recently went through cancer treatment and it was hell.

        Yes, decreasing deaths from cancer is important, but it’s just as important to prevent it in the first place. Personally, I am very concerned about what goes into my skin care products, foods, water, everything. It’s the smart thing to do. And more and more people are learning that what goes onto their skin (the largest organ of the human body) can and does affect us, either in a good or bad way. I’m seeking to make the best choices for me and my family, and it’s not about living longer (80, 90 or 150 years as you put it), but to living well now. I for one, certainly do not want to go through cancer treatments again.

        Have a good day!

        1. Perry Romanowski

          I make the statement that cancer is a disease of older people based on evidence like this. The vast majority of cancer is in people over 60 and there are very few in people under 40. What would the numbers have to be for you to agree that it is a “disease of older people”?

          In these comments I was responding to what Rob G said and he directly said cancer.

          I don’t think we disagree. This post is about the EWG and the fact that they present erroneous information. The post is not about cosmetics and cancer.

          1. Helen


            In your message, you said that “Cancer is a disease of older people”. I do disagree with that, and I stated why I think that in my message. Even your link from the UK shows that there ARE people with cancer who are young. They might not be the largest numbers, but they do exist, and they also die from cancer. They are real people, not just numbers.

            You asked: “What would the numbers have to be for you to agree that it is a “disease of older people”?”

            In your own link to a UK site, it states “Over half (53%) of all cancers are diagnosed in adults aged 50-74 (UK, 2009-2011). However, there are more cases in this group than in the elderly (in whom rates are higher), because there are more 50-74 year-olds in the population.

            Numbers are not the only important thing here. People are. And as I already mentioned, I have oncologist and cancer scientist friends who disagree with what you say about it being a disease of older people. I also say it from personal experience — myself and friends and family members — some of whom did not survive the cancer.

            You said: “This post is about the EWG and the fact that they present erroneous information. The post is not about cosmetics and cancer.”

            I understand that, but cancer HAS been brought up. Why are you writing about EWG in the first place? Is it not for the concern of people and their health? Why else would you care that EWG is as you say “dubious” and “shifty”? Isn’t it for the good of the people the cosmetics are made for?

            In a reply of yours from 9/4/2012, you said: “There is proof that independent toxicologists have looked at the safety of ingredients like parabens and found that they are safe to use in cosmetics. But for some reason, you believe that your opinion on the subject is somehow superior to a toxicologist’s? Why?” Here are some possible answers to your question:

   which in part states: “Measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors (Darbre, 2004). The particular parabens were found in relative concentrations that closely parallel their use in the synthesis of cosmetic products (Rastogi, 1995). Measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors (Darbre, 2004). The particular parabens were found in relative concentrations that closely parallel their use in the synthesis of cosmetic products (Rastogi, 1995).” There is more in that article and it talks about parabens being endocrine disrupters.

   which in part states: “Although the environmental exposure to parabens as a cause of breast cancer is a possibility, there is no conclusive data thus far to state this as fact,” says Katherine B. Lee, MD, in an email. She is a breast specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Breast Center in Ohio. “The study suggests that if there is a relationship between parabens and breast cancer, it may be a complex one.””

   Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours.

   which in part states: “The fact that parabens were detected in the majority of the breast tissue samples cannot be taken to imply that they actually caused breast cancer in the 40 women studied,” said Dr Philippa Darbre, Reader in Oncology at the University of Reading, who also led the 2004 study. “However, the fact that parabens were present in so many of the breast tissue samples does justify further investigation.”

   Study Finds Parabens in Cosmetics Linked to Breast Cancer

            I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do believe that every single person matters, whether young or old. And every person has the right to have information and decide for themselves. I also don’t think you have all the answers either, and that at least with regards to Parabens, more research needs to be done.

            The one thing we do agree on is when you stated in that same reply from 9/4/2012: “I just don’t want the public to be lied to and mislead.” But I don’t agree when you say that “It causes an unfair erosion of faith in science & scientists.” I think that’s your perception, but I never once think that when I’m looking into the safety of a product. I think more about how the FDA does sometimes allow things that aren’t healthy and “buyer beware”.

            Have a good day!

          2. Perry Romanowski

            Thanks for your reply. I would encourage you to investigate the issue of parabens further. The Darbe study you link to has been thoroughly debunked by scientists (it wasn’t good science). Here is a 7 or 8 part series looking at the safety of parabens. You can believe what you want, but the independent scientists (toxicologists not funded by industry) in the EU have determined that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics.

            If you or anyone else is afraid of cosmetics there is a simple solution…don’t use them. They are not necessary for a healthy life.

          3. Helen

            That’s exactly what I have been trying to do — investigate parabens further, and that’s how I ran across your post.

            You said: The Darbe study you link to has been thoroughly debunked by scientists (it wasn’t good science).” Could you please provide some useful links that show this. Thank you for the link you provided, but where does it debunk the Darbe study? I’m not asking sarcastically, but would really like to know. Thank you!

            You said: “If you or anyone else is afraid of cosmetics there is a simple solution…don’t use them. They are not necessary for a healthy life.”

            I don’t think I ever said I was afraid of cosmetics. My question for you is, if cosmetics include shampoos, deodorants, lotions, are you really suggesting that people don’t use them rather than work on what is wrong with them (perceived or real)?

          4. Perry Romanowski

            Here is the post you are looking for. Or you can see what the American Cancer Society says. Or what the scientific experts at the SCCS say.

            //if cosmetics include shampoos, deodorants, lotions, are you really suggesting that people don’t use them rather than work on what is wrong with them (perceived or real)?//

            No, what I’m suggesting is that cosmetic & personal care products are safe. They are safety tested, have been used safely for decades, and there is no good evidence that cosmetic products created today are unsafe. In fact, it is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetics in the US.

            It’s understandable that people without scientific backgrounds would read reports in the media about the dangers of cosmetics and come to erroneous and wrong conclusions about their safety. I don’t exactly understand why someone with no background in toxicology would put their opinion above those of the consensus of the toxicology community but people do.

            And for that reason I say, if you are afraid of cosmetics don’t use them. If you think avoiding parabens is safer for you, you are mistaken and should do more research. Products that use alternatives to proven preservatives are downright dangerous to use.

          5. PB8815

            Nope, this post is definitely about your opinion(s) and not the EWG site. You latched onto one (heck, maybe even a few) inaccuracies about the site and then just came to the conclusion that it means the entire site can’t be trusted. That’s the exact same thing that cigarette and chemical companies have done for years. Also the same thing our politicians do every time they’re up for re-election. Latch onto one thing & just ride it as far as it will take them. Fact is, a smoker can live to be 100 years old. But, if you told the smoker that the cigarette had a good chance of killing them via lung cancer or a myriad of other ailments, then they may not have started smoking in the first place. See what I’m getting at here? Information over opinion. The more concise & accurate that information is, the better!

          6. Perry Romanowski

            This is not the same as the smokers. Scientists demonstrated that smoking causes cancer, not groups like the EWG. If scientists demonstrated that cosmetics were dangerous in the same way then I’d agree that people shouldn’t use them. There is just no evidence of that.

            The EWG site gives a rating which is just an opinion. I’m all for information over opinion which is why the EWG site is worthless. What “information” is there? The entire website is opinion and not even the opinion of trained toxicologists. It’s the opinion of lawyers and social scientists. If the site was run by or even employed ANY toxicologists or chemists or other scientists who would know about these topics it would be much more reliable.

        2. Sheila

          I agree w/u 100%! Thank u for your comment! By age 29, I had 2 different types of cancer, & yes I’m alive, but my quality of life is not what it would have been. Many, many, many young people are getting cancer, U are very correct about that! Older people have just been exposed to the toxins for longer!

      2. PB8815

        You’re missing the point. It was, “Chemists should create their own site to help the cause. Each chemist take on one chemical and do a study to help the population.” Only problem I see here is that what chemist would actually want to help the human species without getting paid? Very few is my answer…very few… :'(

        1. Perry Romanowski

          A site has already been created. The CIR in the US and the SCCS in Europe. This information is produced by independent scientists who are not beholden to industry.

      3. Donna Guidry

        It is not just living that is important. It is the quality of your life. If ingredients are suspect, why not find a safer alternative? I want you to know that in the past two decades I have been a teacher, I have noticed an alarming increase in allergies in our students. They are continuously sick with sniffles, sneezing, headaches, etc. Every child I teach is very familiar with term “sinus trouble” because 90% of them battle it daily. When I was in school, we had never heard of sinus trouble or allergies. Why is that? What is going on? I firmly believe if we don’t quit stressing our immune systems unnecessarily, our quality of life will be so bad we won’t CARE if we live longer or not. I saw a recent article on TV that said by the year 2040, our “allergy problems” would double. If that is so, then our poor immune systems need all the help they can get–by not being bombarded with even low-level harm that, will added up with all the dozens of exposure each day will steal from us the joy of living. Am I scared? You darn right, I am! That’s my great grandchildren we are talking about!

        1. Perry Romanowski

          How do you find a safer alternative? Talc is a natural ingredient used for thousands of years. Now, some people claim (without scientific evidence) that it causes cancer. What alternative can you suggest people use that doesn’t cause cancer? How would you prove it is safe?

    2. LN Ward

      I agree with this person…that the Chemists should try to do the same thing that EWG is doing by establishing a site for information to educate the consumers. It would be time-consuming, with little or no profit, except knowing that you were able to contribute to the knowledge of layman like myself. Please consider .

    3. Asparagus Freak

      Wow, so much misinformation in what you wrote–nearly every sentence in fact. Here’s a few things you may want to research: organic produce may also have had pesticides used on it (I assume that by “chemicals” you mean pesticides, and not just the chemical water, for example). 50% of “the people” are not getting cancer and the reasons some do are legion, and certainly not as simplistic as being due to “chemicals.” Also, why do you think you know more than scientists? You demean “professional chemists” but imply you know more, which is laughable when you see how more ignorance you have included in one comment.

  28. Gwen

    The EWG has made me scared to use even the most basic of chemical products. For the past six months, I have been struggling to find even the most /basic/ of “natural/organic” product that doesn’t give me horrid irritation or contact dermatitis. For example, essential oils of peppermint, lemongrass, lavendar (found in many natural products) are supremely irritating to my skin, eyes, and lips. And I found out that I have a severe allergy to “harmless” shea butter! … I’ve since learned that natural/organic doesn’t always mean safe or better. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean you should rub it all over your skin or hair.

    My question to you is, I want to be safe but at the same time I want my products to be effective. I don’t want to worry about breaking out, getting a rash, etc. from something. Is there any database other than EWG that I can look to? Thanks.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Hello Gwen,

      It’s great you’ve learned to be skeptical of the non-science based EWG. For more scientifically verified information see

      1. PB8815

        Yes Gwen, set aside the next year of your life to research and really decipher what the scientists are saying on that site within their research. Breakdown every ingredient. Heck, while you’re at it Gwen, why don’t you go back to college, get a degree in science (maybe even a PHD while you’re at it) and then study the ingredients more in depth. Is that what you’re saying Perry?

        1. Perry Romanowski

          No. I’m saying don’t do this. I’m saying trust experts. There is no good reason not to. If you are interested and want to get a PHD in toxicology then by all means do that. But there are some things you don’t need to know. You don’t know how your car works or how your computer works but you just trust they do. Pilots don’t know how the computers that fly planes work but they trust them. You don’t know how to fly a plane but you trust pilots. For some things in this life you have to trust that the experts are not trying to kill you.

          1. Donna Guidry

            Okay, this is my last comment. I understand you are sincere, but you are not going to convince me to agree with you, and I am certain I cannot make you understand that it is impossible to turn over the lives of ourselves and our loved ones and blindly trust an industry that is often motivated by the almighty dollar. Trusting the experts and not doing your own research is not something hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to do. Case in point. Decades ago, when I was a paralegal before becoming a teacher, I worked on a case concerning a birth control device that had been approved by experts as being safe. Trust us–they implied–by putting their stamp of approval on it as being safe. It had only been on the market a year, and suddenly women were getting pregnant while using it and then miscarrying or giving birth to deformed babies or blind babies. They also were having horrendous issues removing the device and incurred horrible injuries doing so. As I sat at my desk with a heart full of grief for them, I wondered–what happened Why, in such a short time after this product’s approval, did it suddenly become so harmful? And how would you explain that to a mother who had “trusted the experts” but was now holding a dead/deformed/blind child? Enough said. I’m finished here.

          2. Perry Romanowski

            I don’t seek to convince you. I doubt there is any evidence that would convince you so it would be a pointless exercise.
            You could convince me of your claims. You just need to show scientific evidence, not emotionally laced anecdotes that don’t prove any thing about product safety.

  29. Jeffrey

    False information… It seems that your comment of “Unfortunately, there is no chemical called polyparaben” is false. It just so happens that this is one of the ingredients listed on my prescription of Fluoruracil (Efudex).

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It’s not false information. Your ingredient list for Fluoruracil is wrong. Polyparaben is a typo. They meant Propylparaben.

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  31. Dan

    I’m wondering if “polyparaben” was just a typo meant to be “propylparaben.”

    The EWG has only one product that contains polyparaben and it’s this:
    If you look at the bottom where it lists the ingredients, it says polyparaben. So I’m guessing the seller made the mistake, and it got noticed and carried over by the EWG site. If you look, it says there is no data on polyparaben, yet they give it a terrible score anyway.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Yes, it’s quite likely a typo by the manufacturer or by Amazon. The point is that the EWG has no scientific filter and just adds any information to their database regardless of how accurate it is. It may or may not have been propylparaben. I do not know. I only know that polyparaben is a fictional ingredient & it makes you wonder what other errors are lurking in the EWG database.

  32. Dan

    This post and the subsequent discussion is great. Scientific literacy should be rigorously taught to improve society’s vulnerability to fear mongering. At the very least, kids should be taught how to search for and read the conclusions of scientific review articles. It’s sadly much easier (I’m guilty of this sometimes) to read a non-scientist’s opinion on a matter as it’s faster and there is far less technical vocabulary to understand. That’s a main part of the issue, I think.

    Keep up the good work.

  33. Alex

    I would just like to point out a small fallacie that might have slipped in this article.

    ” they have a listing for Polyparaben. They even give it a chemical rating and call it an endocrine disruptor. Unfortunately, there is no chemical called polyparaben. It doesn’t exist. How they managed to come up with a toxicity score and links to studies about a non-existent chemical”

    Paraben is a class of chemical that does exist and widely known in the cosmetic business. ”Poly” means ”many”. The term ”polyparaben” means ”many paraben”. It’s just linguistics, not false informations.

    1. Alex

      Here are some included for example:
      Methylparaben, butylparaben et propylparaben

    2. Perry Romanowski

      In chemical language, poly means polymer. It’s very specific.

      1. Alex

        What you say is probably true, but the ”poly” in ”polymer” also means ”many”. Same goes for ”polyester”. Poly is only the universal prefix in greek ethymology for ”many”.

        That being said, a polymer is a substance composed of the same macromolecules in the form of a chain. It is therefore true of the parabens. Be it of one root or the other, the use of the prefix ”poly” is correct and does not make it ”false information”.

        However, the fact that they do not precise these specificities and that they are among the rare people to use the terms ”polyparabens”, makes the case nebulous as to the intention, I agree.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          But the thing is, parabens are not polymers. They are NOT the same macromolecules in the form of a chain. They are an un-bonded mixture of compounds. It’s just wrong to call any parabens “polyparaben” because the molecule does not exist. That would be like saying a glass of water is polywater.

          1. Lise

            Polywater. I love this explanation Perry… I feel a new blog post coming on…

        2. Dan

          You are correct that poly means many, and in normal speech you can add poly to something to mean many of that something.

          In chemical nomenclature, however, the prefix “poly” is only used to indicate very specifically that the chemical is a polymer (made of repeating subunits, or monomers). You simply CANNOT just add poly to any chemical name if you have a mixture of that class of chemicals. The meaning changes.

          For example:

          If I’m making a product with sugar in it, and it has a variety of monosaccharides (let’s say a mixture of glucose, fructose, and galactose), all I have is a mixture of monosaccharides. I absolutely cannot label it “polysaccharide” because that has a totally different and specific meaning (that the molecules are bonded together in a chain).

          With parabens, if you have a mixture of ethyl, methyl, and propyl paraben, you can’t just say “I have a polyparaben.” You have to list each paraben as a separate ingredient. Polyparaben would be a long chain paraben molecules all bonded together. As Perry said, that is impossible. It is therefore impossible to label an ingredient as polyparaben.

  34. sun screen

    This year i ordered a sunscreen which was ranked almost nr 1 on their website. I review it again 6 months later and now the same brand and type is now ranked nr 7??!! very dodgy indeed and now their whole credibility went straight to the bin…

    1. Gwen

      Ever heard of a product reformulation? Companies reformulate (change the ingredients) of their products from time-to-time. New formulations would need to be retested by the EWG.

    2. Sheila

      Scientific research is ongoing, that means something in that sunscreen at one time was believed to be safe, but since more studies take place as time goes by, it’s possible for them to realize that things may not be as safe as once thought, like say smoking for example.

      1. Perry Romanowski

        Correct. Of course, if you avoided everything that was not yet “proven” safe you wouldn’t use anything. How much evidence needs to be collected before you think something is safe? Parabens, for example, have over 60 years of data demonstrating safe use. Is that enough to say they are safe?

        1. PB8815

          100 years of human consumption. That’s what I need. If a very small percentage (say less than 0.5%) of humans have died from consumption of something over 100 years then I’d feel as though it is safe.

          1. Perry Romanowski

            I would just point out that human life expectancy since the introduction of industrial chemicals has only increased. If there was a serious problem wouldn’t people be living a shorter amount of time?

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  36. Anon


    Thank you for the article. Are there any sites you would recommend in place of EWG or EWG’s Skin Deep part of the website?

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  39. Sher

    Since I recently received “replies” from your site in my email box, I thought this might be of some interest to your readers. I don’t believe that informing the public about toxins in their personal care products (let alone food, air, environment) can be considered scare tactics. What would be the motive behind that? Furthermore, I don’t see any references as to your opinions on this subject; I only see your opinion.

    My “opinion” is that all of us are exposed to a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which are known not to be safe and that do in fact attribute themselves to cancer, on a daily basis. For women this is especially problematic since women apply anywhere from 10 to 50 different toxins on a daily basis. These toxins accumulate and are absorbed through the skin. Add this to all the other toxins we are exposed to (cleaning products, food, etc.) and we have a bad situation. WHY would you be opposed to research and science about this subject? This I do not undestand. PLEASE READ BELOW:

    Here is some data for your readers:

    Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; The Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medalist for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; and author of over 200 scientific articles and 15 books on the causes and prevention of cancer, including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1979), and Toxic Beauty (2009).

    To read Dr. Epstein’s columns in the Huffington Post, go to:

    Used as preservatives, parabens mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers.…. that parabens are readily absorbed through the skin, and that they pose powerful hormonal or estrogenic effects even at very low concentrations. Parabens have shown to be readily absorbed through the skin of immature female rodents, and to stimulate premature uterine growth, Dr. Epstein observes. Parabens have also been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in laboratory tests, and incriminated as possible causes of breast cancer, he warns. Dr. Epstein stresses that parabens are the commonest of all ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. “As disturbingly, it has been estimated that women are exposed to high levels, as much as 50 milligrams of parabens daily, from cosmetics and personal care products,” he points out. An article in the September 10, 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, indicates that breast cancer patients may unknowingly be dosing themselves with estrogen by using topical moisturizers. The researchers report that the estrogenically active substances found in laboratory tests of 16 moisturizers were not mentioned in the product ingredient lists. The moisturizers tested were not identified by brand name.

    1. Perry


      Thank you for the comments. Here are things to consider.

      1. On Dr Epstein – You are just posting an opinion piece of Dr Epstein. His opinions are not shared by the majority of toxicologists who don’t agree with him. The Huffingtonpost is not a science resource and the opinion of a single person is not relevant. Especially someone who does not have any direct experience with the chemicals he is opining about. Better is to consider what the majority of experts say. Here you can see that the majority of experts (toxicologists) do not think parabens are a danger.

      2. For more reading on parabens and a look at all the science, see these series of posts. This is not the opinion of a single person. This is a review of the scientific research that has actually been done.

      Epstein says that “parabens are readily absorbed through the skin…” based on what evidence? What study shows this?

      I would be perfectly willing to accept the premise that specific chemicals are dangerous, you just haven’t provided any scientific support for that view. I don’t really care who is right, I just want to know what is true. Right now the prevailing scientific evidence is that cosmetics are safe.

      However, if you afraid of cosmetics, don’t use them. They are not needed to live a healthy life.

      1. Lise

        Thanks for the link to the 2009 survey. This was an interesting read.

  40. GothMom

    Health Canada is the Canadian equivalent of the FDA….

    I am sure there are errors on Cosmetic Database…and as a physician/pharmacologist I don’t agree with everything they say…but on this critique you are not correct.

    I also feel very strongly that there are too many toxic chemicals in our “beauty” products, and it is a shame that we do not properly regulate them for safety. EWG is not perfect, but they are doing an amazing job raising awareness about this issue.

    1. Perry

      Thanks for your comments. The available scientific research would not agree with your feelings that there are “toxic chemicals” in beauty products. Fortunately, decisions on what is allowable in cosmetics are not based on people’s feelings but rather on scientific data and research. The majority of the country’s toxicologists do not agree with your feelings either.

      1. Gothmom

        No comment about the error of your assertion that polyparaben was made up by EWG?

        As to your other snyde comment to me: I work in the pharmaceutical industry. The way drugs are regulated, it has to be proven that they are safe before they are used in humans. Millions of dollars are spent doing studies to ensure that you and your family are not harmed by our products. Unfortunately, sometimes even with all that testing, things turn out to be unsafe, and are removed from the market. In the area of personal care items and food packaging, there is no such requirement for safety. Unfortunately the way things are regulated in these industries there are minimal standards at best, and it really is more of a use the chemical first, and if it is proven to be toxic maybe remove it later (after people get hurt).

        Compounds such as BPA would NEVER have been approved for use in the pharmaceutical or medical device industry…look at the studies..a very early study accidentally found that cells grown in media prepared in beakers made of BPA grew abnormally.. animal studies showed abnormal behaviour in offspring exposed to the chemical and increased rates of cancer after exposure to the compound …but this was and is used in products that we feed our children from and store our food in.

        The idea that something is safe until proven toxic is not credible. Chemicals should be required to go through rigorous safety testing, starting with preclinical (invitro) testing, then animal studies, before ever being evaluated for human use. And then they should go through careful clinical trials before the entire population is exposed to them.

        Drugs are frequently delivered via transdermal patches. We know that many compounds pass through the skin and achieve therapeutic blood levels. So…products that are applied to our skin for “personal care” should be held to the same high standards of safety, as many of these compounds also enter our bodies in significant doses.

        You may disagree but I guarantee you that in the next several years, the FDA will be imposing much strictor guidelines for the evaluation of personal care products. Or maybe you think we should relax the standards for the pharmaceutical industry to match the standards applied in yours?

        1. Perry

          I made no snide remarks or at least none that were meant to be snide. Text is not always an efficient way to communicate and you’ve misunderstood my tone. I certainly didn’t mean any offense.

          As far as polyparaben goes, your two sources are mistaken. Despite their inclusion, there is chemically no ingredient called polyparaben. It is not listed in the INCI dictionary which is the official ingredient dictionary used around the world. It also makes no sense as there are no polymerization sites on the parabens to create Polyparaben. As a pharmacologist you no doubt took chemistry so can understand why a paraben cannot exist as Polyparaben. What would be the monomer?

          You are mistaken about the cosmetic market (at least in the US). The FDA is very clear that it is illegal to sell unsafe or adulterated cosmetics. Section 601 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. 361] – “A cosmetic shall be deemed to be adulterated– (a) If it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling thereof…”

          BPA is not an ingredient added to cosmetics so I fail to see the relevance.

          I’m not against more testing where it is warranted but cosmetics have a long history of safe use. Where is the evidence of harm? How will we demonstrate the products are more safe with more testing? What epidemiological numbers will change?

          The reality is that it is very difficult for chemicals to penetrate through the skin to the dermis. If it were so easy, why are drugs delivered through patches? Why not just put the drug in a cream without the patch? Why are most medicines given orally or through a needle? It’s precisely because patches only work for a small fraction of chemicals. For more about skin absorption you might find this enlightening.

          I see no reason to relax standards on the pharmaceutical industry. I’m just unconvinced that there are any reasons to increase the testing requirements for cosmetics as there are no demonstrable problems.

          What I also might point out, you do not need cosmetics to live a healthy life. If you, or anyone else, is afraid of cosmetics, don’t use them.

          1. Perry Romanowski

            Poyparaben is not an actual compound and neither is “Polyparaben”. The fact that you found one article (about foods) that mistakenly references polyparaben does not prove anything. More likely it is a typo that is supposed to be “Propylparaben”.

            Polyparaben is not listed in the INCI dictionary which is the ingredient dictionary required by the FDA for cosmetic companies to follow when listing ingredients in their products. Polyparaben is not a cosmetic ingredient. It also does not exist as a molecule.

          2. Maya N

            Perry, are you saying that scientific studies have reliably shown that all or most cosmetic ingredients do not enter the bloodstream? If so, I was not aware of that and would like to be directed to that information. I have read on blogs (some written by MD’s, dermatologists, and chemists) that the skin is not a magic barrier against toxins. Dr. Mercola, for example, advises the use of a shower filter that greatly reduces what he believes to be the most harmful toxins in water, and he also advises the use of sunscreens that do not contain certain chemicals that he believes to be potentially harmful or questionable. So I’m just trying to understand your position. Are you saying that we don’t need to be worried about cosmetic ingredients because it’s unlikely that most of them will have any sort of systemic effect due to the “fact” (?) that they can’t even penetrate the skin? If so, I’m not challenging that assertion, I just find it very confusing and annoying that so many credentialed “experts” in the field would disagree about a question so seemingly basic as to whether or not cosmetic ingredients can enter the bloodstream.

          3. Perry Romanowski

            Dr Mercola is not a scientific source. He sells products and seems to say just about anything that would help move a product. There is zero scientific evidence that a shower filter will have any impact on toxins in water.

            My position is that there are regulations in place regarding the safety of cosmetic ingredients. Companies do safety testing and toxicological screening of ingredients. As far as these tests go, there is no need for you to worry about the safety of cosmetic products. The penetration issue is not the reason that these products are safe (although that is a factor). They are safe because they have been specifically tested to find out the level at which they can be used safely.

            Don’t take my word for it though. Read through a toxicology report in a peer reviewed scientific journal. These are the people who have actually done the testing. Unfortunately, you’ll have a hard time understanding the report if you are not a toxicologist. But talk to a toxicologist. Don’t take the word of someone like Mercola who financially benefits by having you believe a certain falsehood.

          1. Rina

            While I am no expert, aren’t patches used for the slow/continuous release of the product? Many creams are successfully transmitted through the epidermis without the use of a patch…hormone creams such as progesterone etc.

          2. Perry Romanowski

            You are correct, some ingredients can be passed through the skin when applied with special patches. However, MOST ingredients can’t be made to go through the skin. This is why people still have to take insulin shots (because it won’t go through the skin even with a patch). Some ingredients can be made to go through the skin with special technology. The vast majority cannot. And almost nothing gets through the skin when applied as a cream.

      2. Sarah

        So, I understand that you aren’t worried about the substances in cosmetics. I also understand that the credibility of skin deep needs to be questioned just like every source of information that we use. But, I don’t think that it is a problem to avoid using products that contain substances that have raised suspicion. Personally, I’d rather use products that I know are safe rather than wondering if researchers are correct when they say that widely advertised cosmetics are safe.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          You raise a good point but how do you know ANY product is safe? What safety testing has been done on the various natural extracts that people routinely put in natural formulas?

          1. Sarah

            That is a good point. However, I tend to trust oils and extracts more than man-made chemicals that can be more harsh on my skin, hair, and scalp. Just looking at the track-record of man-made chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc., I am less inclined to trust them.
            Just from experience, my skin has reacted better to the natural products than the regular products.

          2. Perry Romanowski

            While your experience may be applicable to you, it is not generally true. In fact, if you look at the most harsh ingredients which cause the most allergic reactions, they are primarily natural ingredients.

          3. Sarah

            I can, of course, agree with you here. Just because a substance is natural, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I will react to it well. But, in my personal experience, it is more difficult to pin-point the ingredient that I am allergic to in a product if there are 30+ ingredients, and I have really sensitive skin prone to allergic reactions and break-outs. I do realize that this “natural” lifestyle isn’t for everyone and that everyone has to find the thing that works for them. But, I will never say that products with known carcinogens are ok to use, even if they are in very low concentrations. We are exposed to too many carcinogens, and I think that we should limit our exposure to them as much as possible.

          4. Perry Romanowski

            I agree we should limit carcinogen exposure however the levels you get from cosmetic compounds are not significant enough to worry about.

            And I’m not sure you would NEVER say that products with known carcinogens are ok to use.

            For example, the following foods all contain known carcinogens.

            1. Tannins which are found in coffee, tea, and cocoa are known to be carcinogens.

            2. Black pepper is carcinogenic

            3. Safrole, which is a liver carcinogen in rats, is found in sassafras tea, cinnamin, cocoa (trace), nutmeg, and other herbs and spices.

            And there is Arsenic naturally found in apples.

            Would you cut all of these products out of your life?

      3. PB8815

        Who is paying for the “available scientific research”? I’m going to go ahead & guess that the companies who want their products to be labeled as “safe” are the ones paying for it.

        1. Perry Romanowski

          In Europe, the government pays for the research done by independent scientists. In the US, the industry pays for research but it is conducted by independent scientists. Both groups come to nearly the same conclusion about the chemicals in cosmetics.

  41. SM

    Hi, I just read your article. I have recently come across the EWG, but I have also read a lot of articles, most based on recent scientific findings, from a broad range of sources.

    I thought the issue generally being raised isn’t whether these chemicals (such as parabens) are safe in small amounts. Many of them are. The issue is the huge prevalence of chemicals in a very wide range of products we encounter or wear every day, thus creating a situation where noone knows for sure what dosage of these chemicals, that are inarguably toxic at moderate or high levels, are being absorbed by our bodies. So people like myself are simply seeking to minimise how many of these products we use in the hopes of lowering our risk exposure (much like wearing a seatbelt in a car – doesn’t stop you having an accident, but hopefully reduces the risk).

    The whole situation is made more open to fear mongering to take hold due to inadequate or non existant labelling, and very little management by government leaving it up to the consumers to try and educate and protect themselves – because few of us trust companies to choose our welfare over their earning money.

    Just my thoughts.

    1. Perry

      You have a reasonable position but I have to wonder, what makes you think that exposure to any chemical (natural or synthetic) is safe? Isn’t it just as plausible that exposure to chemicals produced in nature could build up and increase your toxicity over your lifetime?

      The thing is companies who use non-synthetic ingredients are both using synthetic ingredients and charging more for their products (making bigger profits).

      1. Sarah

        I would have to disagree with you here. There are many companies that make “natural” products that are sometimes even more affordable than other cosmetics. Take The All Natural Face. I spend the same amount of money on their products that I do elsewhere. I also tend to like the quality of their products more than regular products.
        Now, I will agree with you when you say that the “yes to” line is overpriced. They use many of the same chemicals that regular products do, and they charge much more.

  42. Saiba

    I personally like to find quite a lot of scientific information from a lot of sources negative results and positive results and come to my own decision rather than jump on a bandwagon like EWG. When I see others following only one source that says this is bad for you, but don’t really explain why or where they got the research to back up their claims it irks me. This is why I have a problem with EWG because they are really not educating people rather than scaring them into believing everything they put on their website is 100% true when evidence says otherwise.

    Very good article and it made some great points, thank you. 🙂

  43. Sher

    My understanding is that there are several classifications of parabens, i.e., butylparaben, methylparaben, etc. A polyparaben (listed on cosmetics in some cases) is more than one of these specific parabens. (Poly comes from the Greek word meaning multiple or many.)

    1. Perry

      Your understanding is not correct. There are a number of paraben molecules, propylparaben, methylparaben, etc. But the term polyparaben is not a correct or proper labeling as the molecule does not exist. In the world of chemistry, poly refers to polymers. There are no polymeric parabens.

      1. Sher

        In the grand scheme of things, is this really an issue? The word “polyparaben?” I thought the “issue” is whether or not there are chemicals that are harmful to the human body. There is no “proper” labeling on most products. Labeling is not reqauired and furthermore, there are trade secrets as far as labeling authorized by the government.

        EWG isn’t the only resource for researching dangerous chemicals in food, cleaning products, cosmetics, etc. There are many other organizations, scientists and researchers. The government is one of those and has a database. Some chemicals are proven to be harmful; others are not.

        Ultimately, it is the consumer’s right to have the information and decide for themselves whether they want to use the product. Another factor, is the accumulation of so many chemicals, pesticides, etc. (toxins) that build up in the human body, especially on growing children. There are many stories that have proven this.

        I am just wondering your purpose with your blog. It’s interesting. More interesting is your following. Is there a fear the the “chemical industry” will fade away? I can assure you that will never happen. I just can’t understand why you would not want the public to know about all these chemicals and the possibility (I’m being kind) of harm to the human body.

        1. Perry

          The purpose of this blog is three-fold, educate, entertain and inspire. Specifically, it is to teach people to become cosmetic chemists. And if you’re curious about me, see this post I did about becoming a cosmetic chemist.

          I have no fear that the chemical industry will fade away. I don’t much care about the chemical industry. It has had both a positive and negative impact on society. What I care about is critical thinking and a society that is letting ignorance trump scientific conclusions.

          You claim there are stories to “prove” a build up of toxins & that chemicals (in cosmetics) are proven to be harmful, as if this is a given fact. It is not. There is proof that independent toxicologists have looked at the safety of ingredients like parabens and found that they are safe to use in cosmetics. But for some reason, you believe that your opinion on the subject is somehow superior to a toxicologist’s? Why?

          Why do you have so much confidence in your opinion when you haven’t (I’m guessing) conducted any scientific research in the field? Have you ever read a single journal study about any of the ingredients you believe are “proven” to be dangerous? Would you even know where to find such studies?

          I have no affinity for chemical companies and if there are ingredients that are demonstrated to be unsafe, then they shouldn’t be used. But I have contempt for groups that use fear tactics, lies and propaganda to vilify ingredients and dupe non-scientific consumers into believing things that aren’t true.

          Again, you are mistaken about labeling requirements. Improperly labeled products are deemed “mis-branded” by the FDA and can be recalled. Take a look at the CFR for labeling requirements. And trade secrets do not make up a significant portion of the products in cosmetics. Can you point to me any cosmetics labels that declare “trade secret”?

          It’s not that I don’t want the public to know about these things, I do. I just don’t want the public to be lied to and mislead. It causes an unfair erosion of faith in science & scientists. It leads to things like a belief that global warming is a scam or that vaccines are dangerous. Non-scientific opinions like these have serious negative consequences for society.

          “It is better to be ignorant than to be misinformed”.

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  46. Jessica Allison

    Great article as usual, Perry. I’m actually linking it to a commentary I’m writing on my own site.

    Years ago I discovered the Skin Deep Database and for a while considered it a great reference, but soon came to notice the inflammatory nature of EWGs “findings” (if one reads the studies that EWG cites in its reviews, it becomes pretty obvious that their conclusions are often quite…questionable).

    Thanks for being a voice of reason!

    1. Perry

      Thanks Jessica! I love the idea of the Skin Deep Database. I just wish they consulted scientists who knew something about the field when they put it together.

  47. Surabhi

    That was an eye-opener :-D….I referred EWG for various articles posted in their health/toxic (consumer products) section and ofcourse the cosmetics database.

    That was really great…..Thank you so much for posting such a startling article :-)……

  48. Randi

    Thank you! It needed to be posted and said! You have made my day 🙂

  49. Tara

    I wish I could “share” this article on Facebook. I always see so many posts where the EWG/Skin Deep has labelled this or that ingredients as toxic.

  50. Rae

    Fear really does motivate. I’m no scientist but when I first encountered EWG, I was stunned by how many of the products I’m using are UNSAFE. But then, after a while, I realized that if I follow EWG, it means I believe that most chemists are evil. After that, I google both “unsafe claims” and disputes to those claims.

  51. Eliza

    Perry, you’re officially my hero 😀 That you dare stand up and call upon this bs, publicly, it’s just awesome!!!

    It’s because of this bs that so many areas of good cosmetics have been ruined and more unsafe products flooded the market! I really wonder who is behind all this and what the political agenda really is…

  52. Lise

    It’s unbelievable how much misinformation circulates while the facts seem to get drowned in sensationalism caused by the groups like the EWG. Their ‘database’ also lists ‘polyparaben’ and rates it as a possible endocrine disruptor. There is no such thing!! I blogged about this a year ago, yet it’s still listed on their ‘database’.
    Despite their scaremongering, it is my impression that more people are beginning to questioning their ‘facts’ as well as their motives, so perhaps the truth will prevail eventually.

    1. Perry

      Well, it’s not surprising. Scare headlines are more compelling than headlines that say nothing is wrong.

  53. Mark Fuller

    It is great to be aware of this group. I have had no less than 3 clients approach me in the last 5 years with a dialogue such as “I want everything at a 1 or lower on the skin deep scale.”

    As Perry points out, the scales are inconsistent and incomplete.

    Most clients can be educated to be more selective.

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