Researching cosmetic product safety (and a peek into my medicine cabinet)

A friend of mine recently told me about the Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database, maintained by the Environmental Working Group. Their website states:

In 2004 we launched Skin Deep, an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products. Our aim was to fill in where companies and the government leave off: companies are allowed to use almost any ingredient they wish, and our government doesn’t require companies to test products for safety before they’re sold. EWG’s scientists built Skin Deep to be a one-of-a-kind resource, integrating our in-house collection of personal care product ingredient listings with more than 50 toxicity and regulatory databases.

Intrigued, I decided to put some of my personal care products to the test. You may recall that I recently mentioned that I’ve been trying to scrutinize product labels in an attempt to weed out nasty chemicals. I was curious to see how I’ve done in this regard.

Skin Deep ranks product safety on a 0-10 scale. Zero – 2 is considered low risk, 3-6 is considered a moderate hazard, and 7-10 is considered a high hazard. Each rating is based on ingredient safety in terms of known causes of cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, violations & warnings, allergies, and a myriad of other safety issues.

To begin, I decided to look-up products that I feel fairly certain pose little to no risk to my health. These are items I’ve specifically chosen because they utilize natural, safe ingredients. Let’s see how they did:

Toms of Maine toothpaste
score = 3

Dr. Schrammek blemish balm
score = (not found in database)

Method body wash
score = 5

Naked Naturals shea butter and avocado shampoo
score = 4

Jergens Naturals body lotion
score = 6

Alba Botanica green tea eye gel
score = 2 very low risk

Burt’s Bees lip shimmer
score = 3

Next, I looked up products that I was actually pessimistic about. I didn’t choose them for health or safety reasons, they are not advertised as “natural” in any way, and my assumption was that they would turn up some issues.

Donna Karen Cashmere Mist body lotion
score = 8 high hazard

Donna Karen Cashmere Mist perfume
score =8 high hazard

Herbal Essences Hello Hydration conditioner
score =5

Ion Color Defense styling mousse
score = not listed, their other products are rated at 5-6

Mitchum Power Gel deodorant
score = 2 very low risk

Olay Regenerist night recovery moisturizer
score = 7 high hazard

What I learned
Most products fall into the moderate 3-6 range. I already knew that just because something is labeled “natural” doesn’t automatically mean the product is safe. Still I was surprised by a few of the scores, such as the Jergens Naturals lotion. Besides having a score of 6, the database also told me that 74% of body lotions have lower concerns. Seventy-four percent! I’ll definitely be looking into a product among that 74% the next time I need lotion.

I was also surprised that the Method body wash had a score of five. I’m sure I can find a product I like just as much with a lower score. In fact, I am mostly concerned with the products (such as body lotion and wash) that I use on a very regular basis, have direct skin contact, and are used over the majority of my body. I’m less concerned about the perfume because I don’t use it absolutely every day and it’s just a spritz here and there.

I’m also sort of bummed about the Olay cream score. My skin has looked great since I started using this product a few weeks ago. I knew in the back of my head it wasn’t a natural product, but I bought it and have been loving it anyway. I may research some creams that have a lower score although I’ve tried many “natural” facial moisturizers and I’ve been disappointed.

Another great feature of the site is the ability to find safer products. Each entry tells you what percentage of products are safer. If you click on the percentage, you can then scroll through the entire list of rated products in that category to find a safer alternative… something I will definitely be doing for body lotion and body wash, and perhaps night face cream.

To visit the database and put your own arsenal of personal products to the test, click here.  Report back on your findings in the comment section below and let the rest of us know what your research uncovered.

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5 Responses to Researching cosmetic product safety (and a peek into my medicine cabinet)

  1. stephanie says:

    hi linds!
    great post!

    aveda recently discontinued my favorite all-sensitive line due to paraben content. i know it’s for the best, but i’m still adjusting. good thing about aveda (and i believe origins, too) is that if you use the product for a few weeks and it isn’t working out, you can return it for your money back. you may even be able to do this at new seasons — and they’d have a much bigger selection of natural products from which to choose. i know aveda and origins are a bit pricey, but they both have frequent buyer programs with good perks. plus, since i know most aveda products work for me, i save the time of looking around. (i’ll spare you all the other reasons i love aveda, as there are MANY)

    the one thing i wish aveda offered that they don’t is a deodorant. i’ve yet to find a natural deodorant that works for me. however, from your blog i followed a link to a link to a link and i found this:

    and so i’m dying to try making my own!!!
    xoxoxo steph

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks Steph. I should check out Aveda and Origins. I’d be interested to see how their products rank in this database, since I was surprised at the high scores of “natural” products.

      I was concerned about the deodorant too. I actually thought it would get a high hazard score but, surprisingly, it was one of the lowest, safest scores. I’m not sure what to make of that. In any event, I love the link to the homemade kind. You’ll have to let me know how it works if you give it a try.

  2. stephanie says:

    well, aveda doesn’t get great scores! i think it’s because many people are allergic to the natural ingredients in the products, and they are still in the process of phasing out parabens.

  3. stephanie says:

    this has continued to eat at me! i read through the comments for some of the aveda products and people are saying that the information on the site doesn’t reflect the ingedients they see on their actual products… and they suggest that perhaps the site hasn’t been updated to reflect a lot of the changes aveda has implemented. i think this is the case, as i had a conversation with the employees at aveda a few months ago and heard all about the changes the company made in response to these kinds of concerns. i’m sure they are not perfect… but i don’t think they are quite as bad as the site makes them seem! (how defensive we get about our beloved products!)
    interestingly, the antiperspirant i try to avoid using because i think it’s “bad” actually gets the same rating as the natural deodorant i use because i think it’s “good!” i am definitely making the homemade version soon 🙂

    • Lindsay says:

      Yes, it certainly is possible that the information is outdated. I think Aveda can (and should!) send updated ingredient lists.

      If a product gets a high score because of known allergens or other minor reasons, it doesn’t really bother me. I’m really only concerned with higher scores due to “cancer and developmental/ reproductive toxicity.”

      I’m mainly hoping to avoid parabens and phthalates. And minimize sodium laurel sulfate. Other ingredients don’t concern me so much.

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