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Updating Botanical Substances in Skin Deep®

By Thomas Galligan, Ph.D.

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.