August 9, 2011

Guide for Using the EWG's Skin Deep Database

My quest for healthy products began with Skin Deep. It was one of the first resources I utilized to translate all the long winded ingredients on the backs of my bottles. Since singing its praises from the rooftop (despite being the tone deaf caterwauler that I am), I have now come to realize the limitations of its powers. In order for you to be the most educated consumer, I am going to share the tips for fully understanding the product ranking system on the EWG that took me so long to discover.

  1. Products on Skin Deep are ranked from 0-10, 0 being the safest possible. It is important to note, that a product with one very bad ingredient and many good ingredients can still score a 1 or 2, because Skin Deep uses a weighted average system. While a lower number indicates a lower concentration of that one bad ingredient, it's still in there.
  2. Certain ingredients have limited data. Take the shampoo cleanser sodium cocoyl isethionate, for instance. It gets a score of 1 on Skin Deep. This is quite low, and looks safe. However, under data for: cancer, developmental & reproductive toxicity and allergies & immunotoxicity, you see listed "no information." So this score is based on the fact that there is no available information on this ingredient. But no information doesn't mean that the ingredient is safe.
  3. Some ingredients are scored not as one number, but within a range. For example, PEG-150 stearate gets a score of 3-6. The safety of this ingredient depends on usage. However, Skin Deep doesn't tell you what usage is more dangerous, and what usage is fine. Some ingredients are exceptionally dangerous when inhaled, but not when applied topically. Other ingredients are exceptionally dangerous when left on the skin, but not when rinsed off.
  4. Remember that not all studies have found their way into Skin Deep's database. It is very easy for studies to slip through the cracks (there are so many of them going on all the time!). So make sure to check other resources as well.
Overall, remember that it is only a database. And it is not without its own biases and errors.

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