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Research Personal Care Products with the Skin Deep Database

written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/5/2011

Want to find out what's really in your shampoo, body wash, and face scrub? Growing concerns over the safety of ingredients commonly found in personal care products prompted the Environmental Working Group to create a database for knowledge-seeking consumers. Learn how to use it here

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    FDA Testing Falls Short

    It's true: manufacturers of personal care products - like shampoo and cosmetics - are not required by the FDA to test the safety of their ingredients before their products are made available to consumers. Aside from banning a few toxic chemicals and dyes, the FDA leaves it up to the personal care companies to test their ingredients and products for safety. As long as the product does not cause a skin irritation it can be introduced to the market. This inadequate system leaves many consumers wondering if they should be concerned about long-term chemical exposure.

    The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a joint project of environmental and health organizations, has been working toward banning the use of several high-risk chemicals from personal care products. The chemicals of concern have been linked to increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Over 900 US companies have voluntarily signed the Campaign's pledge to replace toxic ingredients with safe alternatives.

    Most US cosmetic companies are resisting the growing interest in banning toxic substances. Although cosmetic companies argue that their products contain a tiny amount of these ingredients the cumulative effect of using these products over time has not been tested.

    In September 2004 the EU implemented legislation that banned the use of over 1,000 chemicals of concern in personal care products. The prohibited chemicals were those known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation, or birth defects. The EU ban has served as a wake-up call for many US companies who market their products overseas. In response some companies have replaced toxins in their products, such as phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde with non-toxic alternatives.

    Most of the EU-banned substances remain to be commonly-used ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics in the US. The FDA does not require cosmetic companies to disclose ingredients on product labels. Furthermore, companies have the right to use ambiguous ingredient labels - like "fragrance" - to protect trade secrets.

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    Ingredient Research Made Easy

    Unless you're armed with a degree in organic chemistry you could spend countless hours researching the ingredient list on a bottle of shampoo. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done the work for you in creating the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

    According to the Skin Deep website, the database "pairs ingredients in more than 41,000 products against 50 definitive toxicity and regulatory databases, making it the largest integrated data resource of its kind." The user-friendly site prompts you to enter a product, ingredient, or company in it's search bar. Or you can opt for an advanced search, which lists products that include or exclude certain ingredients.

    Say you want to research the safety of the ingredients of the deodorant you normally use. Plug in the product's name and you will be given a wealth of information on the product. The deodorant and every listed ingredient it contains is given a hazard score on a scale of 1 to 10. You'll be able to see if the company has signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pledge and whether they allow animal testing. Links can take you to deodorants that have tested lower on the hazard scale or to additional information on a certain ingredient.

    The EWG's Skin Deep database is truly a valuable resource for consumers concerned about the long-term effects of chemical exposure from personal care products. Use the database to research products that are safe for you and your family to use and support those companies that have taken steps to limit their use of hazardous chemicals.