The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental non-profit focused on protecting public health and the environment. The organization concentrates on preventing health problems in children, babies, and infants in the womb attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants. While the non-profit is active in many different campaign areas, EWG is a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and takes an active role in informing the public about potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics through its Skin Deep Database.
The Skin Deep Database can be used by consumers to assess the toxicity of the ingredients in their personal care products or by investors like Portfolio 21 Investments to help assess the risk associated with particular raw materials or companies. The database is searchable by product type (skin care, eye care, etc.), by product name, or by ingredient. The database provides information on the health concerns of ingredients and assigns a hazard score between 0 (low hazard) and 10 (high hazard). It also offers a data score (None to Robust) that identifies the scope of ingredient safety data contained in the database, and the number of studies available in scientific literature.
For example, one can determine that the ingredient aluminum starch octenylsuccinate carries a high hazard score of 9 out of 10, with a data score of “fair.” Of products covered in the database, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate is present in 67 eye shadow products, 55 anti-aging products, 54 foundations, 52 moisturizers, and 47 concealers. Unfortunately, this ingredient also shows strong evidence for human neurotoxicity and moderate evidence for developmental/reproductive toxicity. The database organizes its search results from low to high hazard score, so consumers who are interested can find products and companies with low hazard scores.
In a similar vein, each year as summer approaches EWG publishes a guide to sunscreens to help inform the public which products are most protective and which ingredients to avoid. In 2012, the non-profit reviewed 262 scientific studies and examined the labels of 1,800 sunscreens, moisturizers, make up and lip products with SPF ratings. While it compiled a list of more recommended products than ever before, 75% still did not meet its safety standards. EWG’s sunscreen guide says to look for active ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and to use lotions over sprays or powders, along with other tips. Sun lovers should avoid sunscreens with vitamin A, as it causes skin cancer in laboratory tests, and oxybenzone because it is a hormone disruptor and skin allergen.
EWG has a host of other focus areas and tools to inform the public on the intersection of human and environmental health. In addition to the resources mentioned above, the non-profit provides an annual shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce, a national drinking water database, tips on cell phone radiation, a meat eater’s guide to climate change, and a U.S. farm subsidy database. As a non-profit organization, EWG provides non-commercial, grounded, useful information that can help consumers avoid toxic substances or select better products for themselves and the environment.
Emily is a Senior Research Analyst with Portfolio 21 Investments. She has 9 years of experience in the environmental field.