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Ingredient Toxicology Update – Colorants

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

By Thomas Galligan, Ph.D.

As part of our ongoing science review and update, EWG toxicologists recently reviewed the safety of ingredients used as colorants in our Skin Deep® cosmetics database to ensure that scores reflect a comprehensive assessment of the most up-to-date science.

Colorants are used in many other consumer products, such as food, medication and cleaners. Given this widespread use, colorant safety is an active field of research, with new information arising regularly.

Although colorants are the among the most tightly regulated cosmetic ingredients in the U.S., not all of them are safe. Some FDA-approved colorants are linked to health harm, despite the FDA’s stamp of approval.

EWG toxicologists worked to confirm that the most up-to-date colorant safety information is used in Skin Deep scoring for each of these colorants.

Skin Deep scores for some of these ingredients may have changed as a result of our review and findings. Here are some of the most common reasons that scores for these colorants may have recently shifted.


EWG toxicologists compiled information from international sources and peer-reviewed research to identify additional impurities of concern in many of the colorants and noted them in Skin Deep.

Synthetic colorants are usually produced from fossil fuels and as a result may contain harmful impurities, like toxic heavy metals and carcinogens. U.S. federal regulations set limits on some of these impurities, and the FDA enforces them by testing each batch of each colorant before it is used in cosmetics. However, some impurities are not covered by FDA testing.

Nomenclature Updates

EWG merged duplicate entries and updated the names of colorants in Skin Deep to allow for more consistent nomenclature.

Dyes and pigments go by many different names and vary by country, certification status and use. The U.S., Europe and Japan each use distinct cosmetic colorant nomenclature systems. Although Skin Deep focuses on the U.S. market, European and Japanese cosmetics regulations and research are important sources of safety information.

Updating names and eliminating duplication ensures that all relevant safety data – from both domestic and international sources – are comprehensively applied to the appropriate ingredients.

Notice of 2020 Annual Toxicology Review

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

By Thomas Galligan, Ph.D.

As part of an annual review of the toxicology data underlying Skin Deep™ scoring, EWG scientists are taking a closer look at dyes and pigments, waxes, algaes and seaweeds, and salicylates, among other ingredients. This is in addition to ongoing updates to botanical ingredients.

As our scientists update scientific or regulatory findings for these categories, Skin Deep scores for ingredients within these categories, and products containing these ingredients, may shift.

Personal care product companies with questions about these score changes may email us at [email protected]

Updating Botanical Substances in Skin Deep®

EWG scientists are constantly reviewing and updating ingredient scoring in Skin Deep®, including specific groups of high priority ingredients, to ensure that our ratings are consistent and are based on the most rigorous scientific and regulatory findings. In coming months, EWG will review the scores and underlying references for botanical ingredients.

Botanical ingredients, such as essential oils, fruit extracts and root powders, are commonly used in personal care products.

Many but not all botanicals are harmless, contrary to the popular belief that “natural” means “safe.” Some botanicals contain highly toxic components – like substances derived from comfrey that contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, chemicals linked to liver toxicity and cancer. Others can cause allergies or are linked to endocrine disruption.

Our understanding of hazards associated with botanicals is constantly improving and has increased considerably since Skin Deep launched, more than 15 years ago. Based on our review, you can expect to see the following changes to botanical ingredients in Skin Deep.

Score changes

We may add new findings that can affect the scoring of ingredients and therefore products. As we review the botanicals, we will also reevaluate our overall scoring algorithm to ensure that our scores continue to reflect our concerns about these ingredients.

Consolidation of synonyms and duplicates

The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI, sets guidelines for naming botanicals, but U.S. companies are not required to follow these rules. INCI stipulates that the scientific name and part of the plant – leaf, fruit, stem, seed, etc. – must be specified, but U.S. companies can be frustratingly vague when naming botanicals. Even when companies do follow INCI rules, the nuances of plant taxonomy and nomenclature may mean a single substance can go by many names. This has led to duplicate entries in Skin Deep.

EWG scientists will work to identify and consolidate synonymous botanical substances using INCI guidelines and other resources on plant taxonomy. In some instances, we may also merge ingredients from different plant parts.