Most Common Questions
We don't recommend it. EWG's Skin Deep database is dynamic, which means that the ranking numbers may change based on evolving science, new information on cosmetic ingredients, or other factors. We encourage consumers to regularly check the site for product updates. Please be advised that EWG does not recommend that companies create marketing materials based on the Skin Deep rating system, given that the rankings may change as the database is updated. EWG makes no representations or warranties about the products rated on this site. EWG disclaims all warranties with regard to the products on the site, including express, statutory, implied warranties of merchantability, or fitness for a particular purpose.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition of public health, faith based, environmental and consumer groups working in the United States to eliminate harmful chemicals from personal care products. The mission of the Campaign is to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products. EWG is a founding member of the Campaign. Check them out (and join their efforts) at www.safecosmetics.org.
The Skin Deep database was conceived and created by, and is run by, our research team here at the Environmental Working Group in Washington DC. We are also cofounders of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. We've helped that coalition by using our Skin Deep database to monitor companies' progress in meeting safe cosmetics standards. But Skin Deep is an independent EWG project.
You asked, we listened. In order for Skin Deep users to easily find the most current products on the market, EWG will now mark any products that have been in the database for longer than 3 years as “old product.” Products that have not been verified in the last 6 years will be removed from the database. This will ensure that the most up-to-date products show up first on your next search!
EWG expands Skin Deep with thousands of new products every year, but we can't evaluate all products on the market. If your product is not rated in Skin Deep, you can create your own report by typing the ingredients and other package text into our "Build your own report" tool.
If you would like to see a product or company added to our database, ask the company to contact us at [email protected]
Cosmetics makers continuously change formulations. Sometimes retailers sell you a company's old formulation. And sometimes you'll have the latest formulation, but we won't have rated it yet in Skin Deep. In either case, you can check out your formulation by building your own product report.
The data availability rating - none, limited, fair, good or robust - is a combination of two factors: the scope of ingredient safety data contained in Skin Deep, and the number of studies available in the open scientific literature. The rating reflects how much scientists know - or don't know - about an ingredient. Not all cosmetics chemicals have been thoroughly studied. Some may rank low for hazards but only because little research has been done. The lower the data availability, the less we know. We recommend that consumers buy products with lower hazard ratings AND at least "fair" data availability.
For more details on the Skin Deep scoring system, see the About section of our website.
Two possibilities: if EWG was provided an incomplete or inaccurate ingredient list, we removed it because its score would not accurately reflect its hazard level. Or, the formulation has not been updated since 2008. Try clicking the "include old formulations" button.
Send a request to [email protected] We don't have the resources to handle every request, but we will do our best to review and import appropriate product information. Please keep in mind that we handle many inquiries from companies interested in adding their products to Skin Deep; with our limited resources and staff, we can't necessarily handle every request, but we will do our best to review and import appropriate product information you send.
Products, Scores and Methods
EWG's Skin Deep is an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products, launched in 2004 to help people find safer products, with fewer ingredients that are hazardous or that haven't been thoroughly tested. Skin Deep combines product ingredient lists with information in more than 50 standard toxicity and regulatory databases. The database provides easy-to-navigate safety ratings for tens of thousands of personal care products.
Skin Deep presents two ratings for products and ingredients, a hazard rating and a data availability rating.
•The hazard score, a 1-10 scale from low to high hazard, reflects known and suspected hazards. A product's hazard rating can be higher than the sum of its parts, if, for example, the product contains chemicals called "penetration enhancers" that increase the amounts of ingredients that soak through the skin.
•The data availability rating - none, limited, fair, good or robust -- reflects how much scientists know - or don't know - about an ingredient's safety.
Consumers should take both factors into account. EWG recommends products with low hazard scores and at least "fair" data availability.
EWG provides information on personal care product ingredients from the published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government. The product ratings indicate the relative level of concern posed by exposure to the ingredients in the product - not the product itself - compared to other product formulations. The ratings reflect potential health hazards but do not account for the level of exposure or individual susceptibility, factors which determine actual health risks, if any.
For more details on the scoring and construction of Skin Deep, see the About section of our website.
For a product or an ingredient with a data availability rating of "none," EWG has not been able to find safety data in the open scientific literature. Without such data, it is impossible to affirm the safety of a product or ingredient. Therefore, EWG presents two ratings for every product and ingredient. One rating is based on known or suspected hazards associated with ingredients; for an unstudied ingredient, just as for a known safe ingredient, the hazard rating would be in the range of 1-2. The second rating, for data availability, is listed directly below the toxicity score. We advise that consumers choose products with ingredients that have low toxicity scores and good data availability.
A product's hazard rating is based on the hazard ratings of its constituent ingredients and other factors. Generally, hazard ratings are higher for products that contain "penetration enhancers" (ingredients that increase skin absorption) and that are made of combinations of ingredients associated with a broad range of health concerns. For more details on the scoring and methodology, please see the About section of our website.
Many ingredients are more toxic under some conditions than others. Take silica, which is sand, a common cosmetic ingredient. When sand grains are inhaled, they can cause cancer and scar lung tissue. These hazards don't come up when sand is applied to the skin or even eaten. Many ingredient safety guidelines and regulations pertain only to certain uses. For example, the federal Food and Drug Administration does not approve certain colorants for use around the eyes. Skin Deep product pages show hazard scores applicable to conditions of use. Ingredient information pages show the full range of scores for all types of products in which the substance is found.
Not necessarily. Scores are based on safety information in publicly available toxicity databases, but since safety studies aren't required by law, there may be no publicly available data for some ingredients. Thousands of cosmetics ingredients have not been assessed for safety even by the industry's own safety panel.
No. Skin Deep is for educational purposes only. Product ratings are brand-blind, based on a hazard classification scoring system. We do hope that the database serves as a resource for consumers to help make better choices on the products that they buy.
The decision depends on the product. If the product doesn't contain high-hazard ingredients or if the replacement cost is high, use it up. Next time, buy a safer alternative. For many items, the risks accumulate over time. Single, short-term use almost never causes an immediate problem.
Don't dump personal care products down the drain. Water pollution from these chemicals is a growing environmental problem. When you throw products in the trash, they end up in a landfill or incinerator. Although all options pollute, throwing products in the trash is generally better for the environment than pouring them down the drain.
EWG enrolled as an Amazon Affiliate and shows links to Amazon from our site because folks ask where to buy brands that are not widely distributed. EWG receives 8.5% of the sale of any item purchased through our Amazon portal. For many products we list additional online retailers as well. As a non-profit organization, Skin Deep contains information about where to purchase products regardless of product rankings, because we do not officially endorse any particular products. If you are a company and notice a product linked to an unauthorized seller, please notify EWG and we will make changes as appropriate.
Ingredient Types and Safety
It depends. Some companies use ingredients that may cause cancer or that are associated with developmental problems. Many cosmetics ingredients penetrate the skin. People ingest those used on lips and hands and inhale sprays and powders. When risky and unstudied chemicals are used in cosmetics, the stakes are high.
Research shows certain chemicals may cause long-term, gradual changes. Some common ingredients are "sensitizers." Repeated exposures can cause you to develop an allergy. Many chemicals associated with health hazards accumulate in the body. Some pass into the fetus. Read our report on the chemicals found in newborns to learn more.
Personal care products contained large volumes of chemicals, natural and synthetic. Some may be benign, but others could be harmful. Some hazards have not been identified because more research is needed. Cosmetic makers are not required to assess how much gets into your body and what the risks might be. No one assesses the safety of your cumulative exposures to cosmetic ingredients.
•Contact your doctor;
•Notify the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) Adverse Event Reporting System (CAERS) by phone at 301-436-2405 or by email at [email protected];
•File a complaint with the maker.
Many common cosmetics ingredients can contain hazardous contaminants. Many are unintentional byproducts of manufacturing processes. Cosmetics makers are not required to test ingredients for purity. They should. We encourage them to have their products tested for impurities at an independent, certified lab and to submit this data to EWG, for possible inclusion on Skin Deep.
Even plant-based ingredients can be harmful -- poison ivy, for example -- and should meet the same safety standards as those derived from petroleum, mines or animals. It's hard to tell which ingredients are truly "organic" or "natural" because truth-in-marketing rules for food don't apply in the cosmetics world. An exception - products bearing the USDA organic seal contain ingredients that come from plants grown without artificial pesticides and fertilizers.
"Fragrance" is usually a chemical cocktail, often containing individual chemicals associated with allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Some fragrance chemicals have not been assessed for safety. Until all fragrance ingredients are disclosed on the label, consumers cannot know what is in a particular fragrance.
Depends. "Natural" does not mean safe. Very little is known about the potentially harmful effects of these ingredients. We encourage the manufacturers of natural fragrances to disclose their components.
EWG supports uses of non-animal testing methods where available and effective. EWG supports research on alternative non-animal health and safety testing. But some studies involving animals are crucial to measuring the safety of chemicals that could harm the environment, wildlife, pets and public health. We believe the number of animals tested can be dramatically reduced. We also believe that researchers can develop more efficient and humane testing protocols, reduce or eliminate unnecessary, duplicative and archaic tests, and find new ways to share animal test data within the chemical and personal care product industries.
Consumers have the right to know how the cosmetics industry addresses public health safety data and animal testing. Some cosmetics makers have given animal testing pledges to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Leaping Bunny. Skin Deep reports this information. As well, Skin Deep reflects PETA data on animal-derived ingredients. You can search for products and brands based on these criteria with Skin Deep's advanced search feature.
Companies and Amending Products
Email us at [email protected]
EWG maintains a standing offer allowing any company represented in our Skin Deep database to submit studies and other information for our review. If you are interested in submitting studies, please email us at [email protected]
How to Contact EWG
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BCCDC. 2003. Radiation Issue Notes (RIN) #15 – Sunscreens and their correct application. British Columbia Centre for Disease Control.
Börm PJ, Robbins D, Haubold S, Kuhlbusch T, Fissan H, Donaldson K, et al. 2006. The potential risks of nanomaterials: a review carried out for ECETOC. Part Fibre Toxicol 3(11): 1-35.
FDA. 1995. FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Cosmetics and Colors. Fact Sheet. FDA Authority Over Cosmetics. February 3, 1995.
FDA. 1999. Final Rule for Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use. Federal Register: U. S. Food and Drug Administration, 27666.
FDA. 2007. Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Proposed Amendment of Final Monograph; Proposed Rule. In: 21 CFR Parts 347 and 352. Federal Register: U. S. Food and Drug Administration.
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National Cancer Institute. 2007. General Information about Skin Cancer. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/skin/patient
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Pont AR, Charron AR, Brand RM. 2004. Active ingredients in sunscreens act as topical penetration enhancers for the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 195(3): 348-54.
Wang T, Kasichayanula S, Xiaochen G. 2006. In vitro permeation of repellent DEET and sunscreen oxybenzone across three artificial memmbranes. International Journal of Pharmaceutics 310: 110–117.
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van der Pols JC, Williams GM, Pandeya N, Logan V, Green AC. 2006. Prolonged prevention of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin by regular sunscreen use. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 15(12): 2546-2548.