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3 reasons the EWG is 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.

{ 70 comments… add one }

  • Taylor 03/17/2015, 7:18 pm

    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.

    • Perry Romanowski 03/18/2015, 9:37 am

      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.

  • Maya 11/08/2014, 5:44 pm

    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.

  • No-no 11/05/2014, 2:01 am

    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.

    • Perry Romanowski 11/05/2014, 7:11 am

      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.

  • Rob G. 04/30/2014, 10:47 am

    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.

    • Perry Romanowski 04/30/2014, 12:03 pm

      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?

      • Helen 08/21/2014, 11:25 am

        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!

        • Perry Romanowski 08/21/2014, 12:17 pm

          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.

          • Helen 08/21/2014, 2:56 pm


            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:

            http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/radiation-chemicals-and-breast-cancer/parabens.html 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.

            http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20120112/are-fears-that-deodorant-causes-breast-cancer-unfounded 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.””

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14745841 Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours.

            http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120111223348.htm 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.”

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nalini-chilkov/parabens-breast-cancer_b_1230018.html 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!

          • Perry Romanowski 08/21/2014, 3:13 pm

            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. http://personalcaretruth.com/2010/11/parabens-in-perspective-part-i/ 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.

          • Helen 08/21/2014, 3:32 pm

            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)?

          • Perry Romanowski 08/21/2014, 5:22 pm

            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.

        • Sheila 01/17/2015, 7:21 pm

          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!

    • LN Ward 03/02/2015, 10:41 am

      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 .

  • Gwen 04/10/2014, 5:33 pm

    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.

    • Perry Romanowski 04/12/2014, 2:07 pm

      Hello Gwen,

      It’s great you’ve learned to be skeptical of the non-science based EWG. For more scientifically verified information see http://www.cir-safety.org/

  • Jeffrey 01/04/2014, 8:12 am

    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).

    • Perry Romanowski 01/04/2014, 9:14 am

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

  • Dan 08/28/2013, 4:00 pm

    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.

    • Perry Romanowski 08/28/2013, 4:04 pm

      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.

  • Dan 08/26/2013, 2:23 pm

    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.

  • Alex 07/07/2013, 10:34 am

    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.

    • Alex 07/07/2013, 10:51 am

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

    • Perry Romanowski 07/07/2013, 5:29 pm

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

      • Alex 08/28/2013, 3:05 pm

        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.

        • Perry Romanowski 08/28/2013, 3:11 pm

          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.

          • Lise 08/28/2013, 3:24 pm

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

        • Dan 08/28/2013, 3:46 pm

          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.

  • sun screen 04/26/2013, 5:33 am

    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…

    • Gwen 04/10/2014, 5:28 pm

      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.

    • Sheila 01/17/2015, 7:28 pm

      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.

      • Perry Romanowski 01/20/2015, 9:55 am

        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?

  • Anon 03/31/2013, 4:04 am


    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?

  • Sher 11/09/2012, 2:22 pm

    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: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samuel-s-epstein

    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.

    • Perry 11/09/2012, 5:20 pm


      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. http://stats.org/stories/2009/Survey_7.09.pdf#zoom=100

      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. http://personalcaretruth.com/2010/11/parabens-in-perspective-part-i/

      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.

      • Lise 11/10/2012, 9:55 am

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

  • GothMom 11/04/2012, 9:28 pm


    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.

    • Perry 11/05/2012, 5:11 am

      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.

      • Gothmom 11/05/2012, 8:57 am

        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?

        • Perry 11/05/2012, 8:26 pm

          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.

        • Perry 11/09/2012, 7:24 pm

          In case you are curious…Relevant to BPA

          • Rina 06/18/2013, 8:56 am

            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.

          • Perry Romanowski 06/26/2013, 10:36 am

            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.

      • Sarah 10/11/2013, 8:57 am

        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.

        • Perry Romanowski 10/11/2013, 9:03 am

          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?

          • Sarah 10/11/2013, 12:45 pm

            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.

          • Perry Romanowski 10/11/2013, 4:32 pm

            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.

          • Sarah 10/19/2013, 9:29 pm

            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.

          • Perry Romanowski 10/24/2013, 1:30 pm

            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?

  • SM 09/25/2012, 5:19 pm

    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.

    • Perry 09/25/2012, 6:07 pm

      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).

      • Sarah 10/11/2013, 9:09 am

        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.

  • Saiba 09/03/2012, 10:51 pm

    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. :)

  • Sher 09/03/2012, 8:14 pm

    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.)

    • Perry 09/03/2012, 9:09 pm

      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.

      • Sher 09/04/2012, 9:18 am

        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.

        • Perry 09/04/2012, 2:14 pm

          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”.

  • Jessica Allison 05/05/2012, 2:22 pm

    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!

    • Perry 05/06/2012, 2:48 pm

      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.

  • Surabhi 01/11/2012, 1:02 am

    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 :-)……

  • Randi 01/10/2012, 3:53 pm

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

  • Tara 01/10/2012, 12:09 pm

    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.

  • Rae 01/10/2012, 11:24 am

    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.

  • Eliza 01/10/2012, 4:25 am

    Perry, you’re officially my hero :D 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…

  • Lise 01/09/2012, 3:41 pm

    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.

    • Perry 01/09/2012, 6:37 pm

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

  • Mark Fuller 01/09/2012, 10:13 am

    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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