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Most Common Questions

What is EWG’s Skin Deep?

EWG’s Skin Deep database is an online guide for cosmetics and personal care products. It was launched in 2004 to help people find safer products, with fewer ingredients that are hazardous or that haven’t been thoroughly assessed for safety. Skin Deep combines product ingredient lists with information from more than 60 standard toxicity and regulatory databases. Skin Deep provides easy-to-navigate safety ratings for tens of thousands of personal care products.

Are there requirements for products to be added to Skin Deep?

Yes. All products must meet U.S. regulations and be available for sale in the U.S. We consider products to be available if sold at a brick-and-mortar retailer or online from either a company website or an established storefront on a site such as Amazon.com, through which your products are made and shipped directly to U.S. Products that are only available for sale through online third-party retailers, like eBay, are not eligible to be added to the database.

I represent a cosmetics company. How can I get my products listed on Skin Deep?

Send a request to [email protected] Please keep in mind that we handle many inquiries from companies interested in adding their products to Skin Deep; we can’t handle every request, but we will do our best to review and incorporate appropriate product information you send.

I can’t find a product that used to be in Skin Deep. Why was it removed?

Two possibilities: If EWG was provided an incomplete or inaccurate ingredient list for a product, we removed it because its score would not accurately reflect its hazard level.

In other instances, the product manufacturer has not provided updated information for six years. Products that have not been updated in the past six years will be removed from the database. This ensures that the most up-to-date products show up in your search.

What does “data availability rating” mean?

The data availability rating – none, limited, fair, good or robust – reflects the scope of ingredient safety data contained on Skin Deep and in the open scientific literature. The rating indicates how much is known – or not known – 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.

Why are the ingredients on my product’s label different from the ingredients listed here?

Cosmetics manufacturers continually change formulations. Sometimes retailers sell you a company’s old formulation. Sometimes you may have the latest formulation, and we may not have rated it yet on Skin Deep. Whatever the situation, you can always create a preliminary report by typing the ingredients and other package text into our Build Your Own Report tool.

I can’t find a product or brand on Skin Deep. Can it be added?

EWG expands Skin Deep with thousands of new products every year, but we can’t evaluate every product on the market. If the product you’re interested in is not rated on Skin Deep, you can either ask the company to contact us at [email protected] to submit its products to Skin Deep; or you may create a preliminary report by typing the ingredients and other package text into our Build Your Own Report tool.

How long are products retained on Skin Deep?

In order for Skin Deep users to easily find the most current products on the market, EWG marks any products that have been in the database for longer than three years as “old formulation.” Products that have not been updated in the past six years will be removed from the database. This ensures that the most up-to-date products appear first in your next search.

How is EWG’s Skin Deep related to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics?

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.

What’s the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics?

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.

I represent a cosmetics company. Can I use EWG’s Skin Deep ratings in my marketing materials?

EWG’s Skin Deep database is dynamic, which means that the scores may change based on evolving science, new information about cosmetic ingredients and other factors. EWG does not recommend that companies create marketing materials based on their Skin Deep scores, given that the rankings may change when 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.

About EWG VERIFIED™

What is EWG VERIFIED™? Why was it developed?

EWG VERIFIED™ takes the Skin Deep rating system one step further by requiring companies to submit significantly more detailed information than a Skin Deep submission to confirm that they: avoid ingredients that authoritative health bodies have flagged for potential health concerns; fully disclose their ingredients to consumers; ensure that their products are adequately preserved and free of contaminants; and follow good manufacturing practices. To be authorized to use the EWG VERIFIED™ mark, a company must meet all our rigorous criteria and provide additional information not typically found on the product label – an effort to drive the market toward greater transparency.

EWG VERIFIED™ makes it easier for consumers to make healthy purchasing choices. When consumers search the aisles in stores and see the EWG VERIFIED™ mark on products, they know which ones meet EWG’s strictest criteria for transparency and healthfulness.

Why are EWG VERIFIED™ products listed first on Skin Deep search results pages?

EWG VERIFIED™ products are listed first in search results because they have passed through EWG’s verification process, meaning that their manufacturers have provided EWG with additional information about the product to prove that it meets our strictest standards for human health. These products provide full ingredient transparency, use good manufacturing practices and avoid EWG’s chemicals of concern.

All EWG VERIFIED™ products go through a rigorous screening process before they’re approved for the mark, and they must score within the green, or low hazard, range on Skin Deep.

I represent a cosmetics company interested in having the EWG VERIFIED™ mark on our products. Where do I start?

The entire process, along with the criteria and required documentation, is described here. If you have questions about the application or verification process, contact [email protected]

Products, Scores and Methods

Why does Skin Deep link to Amazon.com?

EWG enrolled as an Amazon Affiliate and shows links to Amazon from our site because people ask where to buy brands that are not widely distributed. EWG receives a nominal percentage of the sale of any item purchased through our Amazon portal. For many products, we list additional online retailers as well. Skin Deep contains information about where to purchase products regardless of product rankings.

If you are a company and notice your product linked to an unauthorized seller, please notify EWG and we will make the appropriate changes.

What should I do with cosmetics or personal care products I already own that score high for hazards? Throw them away or use them up? What is the best way to dispose of them?

That 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.

Water pollution from these chemicals is a growing environmental problem, so don’t dump personal care products down the drain. Although all options pollute, throwing them in the trash is generally a better option.

Does EWG endorse products or brands?

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.

If a product/ingredient scores low for hazards, does EWG consider it safe?

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.

Why is there a range of scores for some ingredients?

Many ingredients are more toxic under some conditions than others. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve certain colorants for use around the eyes. Or take silica, which is sand and a common cosmetic ingredient. When sand grains are inhaled, they can cause cancer and scar lung tissue. However, sand applied to the skin or even eaten is not a hazard. Skin Deep ingredient pages show the full range of possible scores for an ingredient.

Why is there a discrepancy between the ingredient scores and the overall product score?

A product’s hazard rating is based on the hazard ratings of its constituent ingredients and other factors. It is not simply an average of the ingredient scores. Generally, hazard ratings are higher for products that contain “penetration enhancers” (ingredients that increase skin absorption) and are made of combinations of ingredients associated with a broad range of health concerns. In addition, for products with an SPF, the overall product score factors in sunscreen efficacy as well as ingredient health hazards.

For more details on the scoring and methodology, please see the About section of our website.

If EWG found no data available on a product or ingredient, why does the product or ingredient have a hazard score of one?

For a product or ingredient with a data availability rating of “none,” EWG has not been able to find readily available safety data. 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 consumers to choose products with ingredients that have low toxicity scores and good data availability.

How do you score ingredients and products in EWG’s Skin Deep?

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 amount 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 to Skin Deep visitors about 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 that determine actual health risks, if any.

For more details on the scoring and construction of Skin Deep, see the About section of our website.

Ingredient Types and Safety

What is EWG’s position on animal testing?

EWG supports the use 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 and Leaping Bunny; Skin Deep reports this information. In addition, Skin Deep reflects PETA data on animal-derived ingredients.

Are natural fragrances less hazardous than synthetics?

That depends, too. “Natural” does not mean safe. Even some “natural” ingredients can be harmful. And since the term isn’t regulated, it’s hard to tell which claims of “natural” are actually true. We encourage the manufacturers of natural fragrances to disclose their components.

Why does “fragrance” score an 8?

“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 can’t know what is in a particular fragrance.

My product contains only organic or plant-based ingredients but still has a high hazard score or low data availability rating. Aren’t organic or plant-based products better?

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 would be products bearing the USDA Certified Organic seal, which contain ingredients that come from plants grown without artificial pesticides and fertilizers.

Skin Deep says an ingredient may contain hazardous contaminants. How do I know if they’re there for sure?

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 be. 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.

I had a reaction to a personal care product. What should I do?

• Contact your doctor.
• Notify the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Adverse Event Reporting System by phone at 1-800-332-1088 or submit an online form at MedWatch Voluntary Reporting Form.
• File a complaint with the product’s manufacturer.

Are the amounts of chemicals in cosmetics too small to matter?

No. We each use about 10 personal care products each day, repeatedly exposing ourselves to tens of unique ingredients. Some may be benign, but others may be harmful. Some chemicals, like those that affect our hormones, can have an effect even at low doses. In general, no one fully understands yet the safety of cumulative, or real life, exposures to cosmetic ingredients.

If I have not noticed a reaction to a product, should I be concerned about my products anyway?

Research shows certain chemicals may cause long-term, gradual changes – changes that you may not notice for years, if not decades. For example, some common ingredients are “sensitizers.” Repeated exposure may cause you to develop an allergy. Many chemicals associated with health hazards accumulate in the body. Some are passed through to the fetus. Read our report on the chemicals found in newborns to learn more.

Are ingredients in personal care products harmful?

It depends. Some cosmetics ingredients have been linked to cancer or developmental problems. Many penetrate the skin. People often 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.

Companies and Amending Products

I represent a cosmetics company and noticed some product categories and products that were previously on Skin Deep are no longer included.

In rare cases, EWG may choose to remove a category of products from the Skin Deep database to take a new look at the products’ scores and ensure that our ratings reflect the latest science and the hazards associated with products in that category. For example, EWG recently removed some products marketed for use on damaged skin, including eczema products and acne treatments, to ensure that our scores appropriately reflected the increased risk of absorption associated with the use of these products.

Can companies provide data to EWG to show that their ingredients and/or products are safe?

Any company represented in our Skin Deep database has a standing offer to submit studies and other information for our review. If you are interested in submitting studies, please email us at [email protected]

I represent a cosmetics company and Skin Deep lists an old formulation for one of our products. How can I update the listing?

Email us at [email protected]

How to Contact EWG

How do I submit comments and questions regarding Skin Deep?

•Consumers: Contact us via email.
•Cosmetics Companies: Email us at [email protected]


References

[ACS] American Cancer Society. 2007. Skin Cancer Prevention and the New York Times. Dr. Len’s Cancer Blog. http://our.cancer.org/aspx/blog/Comments.aspx?id=158

[BCCDC] British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. 2003. Radiation Issue Notes 15; Sunscreens and their correct application.

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. Particle and Fibre Toxicology 3(11): 1-35.

Food and Drug Administration. 1995. FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Cosmetics and Colors. Fact Sheet. FDA Authority Over Cosmetics. February 3, 1995.

— . 1999. Final Rule for Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use. Federal Register: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 27666.

—. 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: Food and Drug Administration.

Green A, Williams G, Neale R, Hart V, Leslie D, Parsons P, et al. 1999. Daily sunscreen application and betacarotene supplementation in prevention of basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinomas of the skin: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 354(9180): 723-729.

National Cancer Institute. 2007. General Information about Skin Cancer. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/skin/patient

Pont AR, Charron AR, Wilson RM, Brand RM. 2003. Effects of active sunscreen ingredient combinations on the topical penetration of the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Toxicology and Industrial Health 19(1): 1-8.

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 membranes. International Journal of Pharmaceutics 310: (1-2): 110-117.

Wang T, Gu X. 2007. In vitro percutaneous permeation of the repellent DEET and the sunscreen oxybenzone across human skin. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 10(1): 17-25.

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 Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 15(12): 2546-2548.