Is the EWG’s Skin Deep Database a good place to learn about ingredient safety?

Not really, no.

It’s easy to see the appeal of Skin Deep Database. Type in something and immediately learn if something is safe or not. Bam! No need for further research, you have your answer, right?

Unfortunately, this particular database is not known for accuracy among professionals. The EWG has railed against chemicals that quite literally do not exist. They readily provide ratings for ingredients with very little information about them—it isn’t hard to find many ingredients in their database with “limited” data or even “data: none” and a conclusive safety rating.

They also don’t keep abreast with recent research and update their ratings. Extensive research into parabens by multiple reputable bodies has found them to be safe when used as recommended, but if you ask the EWG they are basically cancer in a bottle with no safe usage rate. They’re also inconsistent—head over to SkinDeep and do a search for “petroleum jelly”. The first result, petrolatum (the INCI for petroleum jelly) gets a 4; a “moderate” hazard. The following products all score a 1 (safe), despite all being composed of 100% petrolatum! The chemical compounds are identical, so how is it that petrolatum is a risk, but when it’s called Vaseline it isn’t?!

This database also completely lacks nuance. There is no mention of usage rates or reasons in any of their ratings, and that sort of information is essential. The dose makes the poison. ALWAYS. If you evaluated the safety of water based on what it does when you get a lot of it in your lungs you wouldn’t touch the stuff. If the safety of chilli peppers was determined by rubbing them in our eyes, we wouldn’t have spicy food. It is impossible to state something is always safe or always toxic—there is so much more to it than that. How much was used? Where and how was it used? Is it a wash-off or leave-on product? What other ingredients are in the formula? Which part of the body is the product designed for? The SkinDeep database does not seem to care.

I’ve also compiled some further reading:

Alternative sources

If you’re looking for a good database, I recommend It does not have big red badges telling you something is dangerous, but it does provide solid information and plenty of linked sources so you can make your own decisions.

You can also look for CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) Safety Assessment reports on ingredients; simply google “CIR” and the ingredient name. You should get a hefty PDF document about that ingredient (or a class of ingredients that includes that ingredient) that will contain tons of information about the safe use of, and any concerns regarding, that ingredient.

Posted in: Safety