Avoiding Unhealthy Ingredients
With so many chemicals in use in so many different products, many of which have never been adequately tested for health and human safety, it is difficult to simply say “avoid these ingredients” because there are too many to name. It is also challenging to clearly state what the health consequences of all of these synthetic chemicals might be because they are all so varied and they are still being tested. Health effects can range from rashes to cancer, with the more serious health risks coming from long-term exposure.
Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
There are thousands of chemicals in use in cosmetics. There are also hundreds of brands with different products and formulations that seem to change several times throughout the year. Every few months there is a new, improved conditioner for sale or a revolutionary lipstick with benefits that have never been achieved before. How can you stay up-to-date with the health and safety issues of products that you apply to your body when you have got so much else to do in life, too?
The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (www.ewg.org/skindeep) is the answer for consumers who are concerned about their cosmetics safety and want to find unbiased information that is easily available. Started in 2004, the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database offers consumers safety profiles of specific ingredients and even specific products by brand name so that you can make an informed choice. The EWG states that “Our aim is to fill in where industry and government leave off.”
EWG has scientists who research ingredients used in cosmetics in the United States and then compares those ingredients with nearly sixty databases of regulated and toxic substances to create a safety snapshot of a particular ingredient or product. More than 69,000 products and more than 2,800 brands are referenced on the website.
The EWG is a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.safecosmetics.org), a coalition of health, environmental, and consumer groups. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics actively strives to educate consumers about health dangers in cosmetics and encourage the health and beauty industry to use safer ingredients in cosmetics.
When you enter a specific product name in the search engine of the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, you will receive easy-to-understand graphics of how healthy or unsafe that product is. A chart that lists the health concerns of ingredients ranks the risks of hazards such as cancer or allergies from low to high. The list of ingredients is posted, and each ingredient is given a hazard score from zero to ten, with zero being the safest and ten having high risks. When researching specific ingredients, you can find out what the ingredient is used for as well as all of the health hazards based on specific toxicity reports.
Common Ingredients to Avoid
Even though there are thousands of chemicals used in cosmetics, there are a few that stand out as ones to avoid. The EWG lists the following common ingredients as ones with safety concerns, including the presence of harmful contaminants:
Polyethylene glycol and PEG
There are many, many more ingredients that also have health hazards, though, such as parabens, oxybenzone, phthalates, retinyl palmitate, hydroquinone, and others. EWG's “Top Tips for Safer Products” (www.ewg.org/skindeep/top-tips-for-safer-products/#pick_safer) offers a lengthier list broken down into ingredients to avoid in specific categories, as well as ingredients to avoid for men, women, and children.
Of course it is not always easy to remember these strange chemical names, especially when you might not even be able to pronounce them, much less spell them. You can write down the list of common health hazards found in cosmetics and keep it with you while shopping. The EWG also offers a pocket guide, “Quick Tips for Safer Cosmetics,” with a $5 donation so that you can put it in your purse or wallet and access all of the information that you need when shopping for cosmetics.