For today’s I want to tell about the skin deep from EWG and the amount of fear-mongering and nonsense that it creates. EWG stands for Environmental Work Group their mission is to « empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action. ». This is a noble cause but unfortunately for skincare, it is far from being well done. Some of their recommendations are simply problematic.
Skincare ingredient regulations
Skincare ingredients are regulated and brands cannot use every ingredient if it is not authorized. The concentration of certain actives is also limited. In general, groups of expert determine if an ingredient or a group of ingredients are safe, based on scientific literature.
It is important to understand that not all scientific studies are done properly. Some of them have a scary title but lack scientific evidence to prove their point. The most common one is about parabens that give cancer. Until now there is no scientific data that demonstrate that parabens in skincare are carcinogenic.
Ingredients that are the most scrutinized are preservatives, fragrances, and sunscreen filters. In all those 3 categories EWG skin deep is a scam and not accurate. Also, preservatives and sunscreen filters are evaluated by different groups of experts in the world (in the USA, in the EU, in Japan…) and are used in a similar range of concentrations. The system is not perfect but it is not as dramatic as EWG paint it.
Preservatives are used in cosmetics (skincare and makeup) to preserve them from going bad due to oxidation and proliferation of fungus and bacteria. Don’t forget that no using preservatives are far more dangerous for your skin than using them.
I’ve written a post about paraben phobia and EWG is one of those websites that class them in icky ingredient simply because they have listed all the scientific literature without looking at the validity of the data. I remind you that Parabens are still authorized in the USA, in the EU, and in Japan. What is troublesome is that parabens were replaced by problematic preserves such as methylisothiazolinone for example that is better to avoid. What is good is that EWG does give a bad rating to this family of preservatives.
Fragrances are volatile molecules that give a pleasant scent to our cosmetics. There are not providing any benefits in terms of skin health and can be troublesome.
Fragrance in cosmetics are either synthetic or derived from plant aka essential oils. In both cases, they can be problematic because they can lead to allergic reactions. The fragrant components are soluble in lipids and it has been shown than they are absorbed into the skin, hence the allergic reaction… Read my blog post about them (here).
Obviously, we are no equal and lots of us will never have visible reactions to fragrance either synthetic or from essential oils. Still, you cannot exclude that you will react to them in the future and that they don’t create low inflammation in your skin.
EWG skin deep classes perfume at 8 in their scale (1 being the best and 10 the worst). However, essential oils like lavender oil are classed number 1 despite the fact that it is a perfume. It is known that lavender oil is allergenic (DOI: 10.1097/DER.0000000000000293) but the allergic rate is considered by EWG to be null (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/703475-LAVANDULA_ANGUSTIFOLIA_(LAVENDER)_OIL).
The sunscreen filters rating is what infuriated me the most. Sunscreen filters with clothes are the only way to protect you and your children from skin cancer. In the USA, 9500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, (https://www.aad.org/media/stats-skin-cancer) and the rate of melanoma (the deadliest form) is in constant augmentation. In Australia the numbers are also scary: in 2013-2014, there was a 63% rise from 2002–03 in melanoma-related hospitalization! (https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/skin-cancer-in-australia/summary). Finally, regardless of skin color, everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer. Protecting your skin from UV is of utmost importance.
Unfortunately, EWG class certain organic filters as endocrine disruptors and so on such as octinoxate, octocrylene, homosalate, oxybenzone… creating unnecessary fear-mongering (https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/).
Some of the scientific papers that are listed concluded the opposite of what they claim. One of them is Janjua et al 2004 that shows that oxybenzone is not an endocrine disruptor when used in sunscreen!
Sunscreen filters can be problematic for certain skin types. What I mean is that they can trigger sensitivity and breakouts mostly. But not all organic filters are the same. On my blog and my YouTube channel, I review lots of sunscreens to help you find the best.
EWG uses its scaling system to rate ingredients. Therefore some products ended to be safe despite the fact that there are very problematic. An excellent example is the Calendula Butter Baby Cream from Earnest Mom that has the EWG approval. This cream is recommended for baby and is « 80% Certified Organic Ingredients Vegan | Gluten-Free | Paraben-Free | Phthalate-Free | Fragrance-Free ». How safer can it be? (https://earnestmomusa.com/products/calendula-butter-baby-cream)
The third ingredient in this cream is ethanol aka alcohol used as a preservative and it contains botanical extracts (coca butter, carrot extract, witch hazel, rosa flower water…) Baby’s skin epidermis is more permeable than adult skin. Therefore, alcohol, botanical extracts, and perfumes are very problematic for babies. This cream is exactly what you don’t want for your child. I have a video about skincare for babies that are safe (here).
In general, EWG collects scientific data without critics. Hence, trashy science is mixed with good or scientific data is simply lacking. They also refer to Scientific articles that demonstrate the opposite!
The whole idea of rating is also too simplistic because some of us have a specific allergy, sensitivity, and needs that can’t be decided by a simple scale. Finally, there is a lack of reflection between risk and benefits for human health, especially with sunscreens. Even though we discover that some sunscreen filters are endocrine disruptors their health impact is insignificant compared to UV exposure aka skin cancer.
Thank you for your time.