**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.
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.
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.