So, How Safe is That Stuff I’m Putting on My Face?

November 6, 2014

Ingredient list A friend just asked me about the safety of ingredients in a product that claims to enhance eyelashes (http://www.dermstore.com/lp/2268). Even though I’m a chemist, I still find it difficult to interpret product labels for safety of ingredients and can imagine how frustrating this is for people who simply want to know about the safety of products they apply to their bodies.

I decided to use this as an example for how you can figure these things out. To begin with, I checked to see whether the product was on EWG’s SkinDeep Cosmetics Database (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep). It wasn’t, drat.

So I then checked the Database for each ingredient’s hazard score. Of the 27 ingredients listed for the product, all but one were in the Database (I’ve listed the individual ingredient scores below if you’re interested). Of these, the majority (17) had hazard scores of zero, which indicates that they were not considered hazardous based on available information. That was good news. And it wasn’t until the 16th ingredient on the label that a score above zero was listed. Only one ingredient, phenoxyethanol, had a score in the moderately hazardous range and it was 21st on the list of ingredients, meaning that it was present in low concentrations in the product.

That left one ingredient not listed in the Cosmetics Database. Chlor phenoxyethanol was the 22nd ingredient on the list and appears to have been added as a preservative to inhibit bacterial growth. I decided to look further to see what I could find out. After much searching on Google, I found nothing to answer my question about this ingredient’s toxicity. I actually didn’t even find the chemical in the top results of the search. So I shifted to EPA’s Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource (http://actor.epa.gov/actor/faces/ACToRHome.jsp) and found – nothing – on its toxicity. Sigh…

lashThis is a place many of us are familiar with. And while I am painfully aware that few chemicals have been adequately tested before they are added to consumer products, it is still frustrating to be unable to fully answer my friend’s question about this product’s safety. I can only hope that this will change so that it isn’t such a chore to figure out how safe a product is to use. Or better yet, that the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products will end sometime soon.

Bottom line, I will tell my friend that most ingredients appear to be safe and of the two lower-concentration ingredients, one is moderately hazardous and that I don’t know about the safety of the other.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Wishing you good health,

Laurel

Here’s the list of ingredients and their scores on the Cosmetics Database:

Ingredients that had scores                               EWG’s score                     Supporting Data

Aqua/Water/Eau                                                         0                                       robust

Glycerin                                                                      0                                         fair

Butylene Glycol                                                       0 – 1                                    limited

Pterocarpus Marsupium Bark Extract                        0                                      no data

Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17                                         0                                      no data

Apigenin                                                                      0                                         fair

Glutamic Acid                                                             0                                         fair

Biotinoyl Tripeptide-1                                                 0                                      no data

Octapeptide-2                                                            0                                      no data

Panthenol                                                                   0                                       limited

Mannitol                                                                     0                                         fair

Biotin                                                                          0                                         fair

Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil                                         0                                        fair

Oleanolic Acid                                                            0                                         fair

Disodium Succinate                                                   0                                         fair

Sodium Oleate                                                            2                                       limited

PPG-26-Buteth-26                                                     2                                       limited

PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil                              3                                       limited

Cellulose Gum                                                            0                                         fair

Hydrogenated Lecithin                                               2                                       limited

Phenoxyethanol                                                          4                                       limited

Chlor Phenoxyethanol                                         not listed

Chlorphenesin                                                            2                                       limited

Sodium Benzoate                                                       3                                         fair

Sodium Citrate                                                            0                                         fair

Potassium Sorbate                                                     3                                       limited

Disodium EDTA                                                          0                                         fair

Scores for ingredients range from 0 – 10 overall, with values from 0 to 2 indicating a low hazard, values from 3 to 6 likely a moderate hazard, and those from 7 to 10 considered highly hazardous. The strength of information supporting these scores also ranges from no data available to a robust amount. For more information on how EWG determines the score for ingredients, check out their website at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/site/about.php.

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6 Responses to “So, How Safe is That Stuff I’m Putting on My Face?”

  1. Susan Says:

    I tried an eyelash growth-enhancing product a few years back and stopped using it after a week. I inadvertently got some in my eye, though I was as careful as possible, and it didn’t feel good. I weighed the benefits of longer, thicker lashes against eyesight, and clearly eyesight won.


    • I hear you – I was using a product to reduce bagginess under my eyes and started wondering what it was really doing. Not worth it. I’ll just go for the cool cucumber approach instead…

  2. Janet Says:

    Who knew when I asked Laurel to check out this product for me what a time-consuming, complicated job it is to really figure it out. And in the meantime I got to thinking, how on earth could anything I put on my lashes really affect how thick or long they would grow? I decided to give up on long, thick lashes and am now inspired to search the EWG website for better mascara options – thanks to Laurel’s response!


  3. Great article, Laurel! I try very hard to get my personal care products from reputable suppliers and stores. I gave up dollar store products a long time ago and have been using the EWG site for many years as well. But there really is no simple way to chose, is there? The company I work with has a product service line I can call and ask for details about any ingredient. Many times they email research they have done before deciding how to formulate. I agree will be nice someday when they companies are all held to the highest standard and those that don’t self regulate are voted out with our purchasing dollar. Would love to hear your thoughts sometime on CA Prop 65.


    • Hi Dawn,
      Thanks for the comments and it is hard to find 100% safe or green. I think CA Prop 65 is a good step but it still seems to work one chemical at a time. What we really need is screening before chemicals make it into products or food. We consumers must still speak with our wallets, as best as we can with limited information, and tell our representatives to support regulations that protect us. I suspect the recent election has made that a more difficult challenge but I prefer to take the long view and keep working on these issues.
      Best wishes,
      Laurel


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