Filtering through truth and marketing schemes is tough for me,too, and I've been at this a LONG TIME!
When it comes time to choose a product, say, like a sunscreen, if you're like me, you will read the labels just like you do in the grocery store. You "hope" what you are reading is true and trustworthy. Because if it isn't, then where do you go to find what IS true and trustworthy? Having sources you can count on is super-important, but so many groups, companies, and websites aren't reliable - even when, at first glance, it "seems" legit.
[Once I started researching for this post, it very quickly became VERY LONG. So grab a comfy seat, and a beverage, and enjoy!]
I've taken issue with the cosmetic industry's "bending the truth" for quite some time - probably starting when I was in a training session at Elizabeth Arden (I was a guest make-up artist of theirs). The lady 'teaching' the class had no professional skin care background at all - she was probably a marketing major, if that. When she passed around a new moisturizer I naturally said what I thought, "This is GREASY!", which was rebutted by her. She "corrected" me by saying, "No, dear, that's EMOLLIENT." Meaning, you don't tell the customer it's greasy, you say "emollient" - it sounds nicer and will sell more products that way. I was not impressed.
Over the years, I left the cosmetic counter and went behind the scenes of the real beauty industry - the one where we are licensed and trained by actual specialists - and held to a higher standard. During my process of learning as much as I can about how products are made, I've come across some amazing cosmetic chemists and formulators who continue to teach me the actual truth. But, I am still as susceptible as the well-meaning consumer who is doing her best to wade through the cosmetics jungle: in other words, I can still be fooled by slick marketing and scare tactics.
Case in point: EWG.org and their "Campaign for Safe Cosmetics".
While studying, I came across this message from a trusted source. He writes:
If you work in the cosmetic industry, then you should know about the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their off-shoot group the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The EWG focuses on providing information while the CFSC attempts to get legislation passed. Ostensibly, they are consumer advocacy groups who endeavor to ensure that cosmetic manufacturers produce only safe products. A laudable goal and one that all cosmetic chemists can get behind. However, cosmetic chemists, formulators and the cosmetic industry already support this goal so the cosmetic products we produce are already safe. The EWG & CFSC are unnecessary.
But I’m certain that the good folks at these groups would disagree. From their perspective cosmetics are not safe. And cosmetic chemists can not be trusted to create safe formulas. They seem to believe that there are cosmetic chemists who want to create formulas that will poison their families and cause widespread cases of cancer. They don’t think very much of cosmetic chemists or formulators.
The problems with these groups
The primary place that consumers (and beauty bloggers) find out about the EWG is through their online ingredient resource called the Skin Deep database. It’s an interesting concept and they’ve clearly put a lot of work into it. Unfortunately, it is full of misleading information & many things that are just wrong.
Skin Deep database Flaws
There are a few obvious flaws in the database that have been pointed out to the EWG but they don’t seem interested in changing them.
There is false information in the database but they don’t seem interested in fixing it. For example, they have a listing for Polyparaben. They even give it a chemical rating and call it an endocrine disruptor. Unfortunately, there is no chemical called polyparaben. It doesn’t exist. How they managed to come up with a toxicity score and links to studies about a non-existent chemical is baffling and it certainly doesn’t build faith in the reliability of their data. If they had a cosmetic chemist review the information they were putting up before entering it into the database, perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem. Clearly, they don’t. And they don’t care to fix it because this has been pointed out to them directly.
Creating a hazard score is a dubious activity anyway (since it is the dose that makes the poison) but they aren’t even consistent within their own scoring system. For example, they have listings for both Sodium Coceth Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Cosmetic chemists know that these compounds are essentially identical with minimal differences. But somehow the Sodium Coceth Sulfate gets a 0 hazard score, while Sodium Laureth Sulfate gets a 4 hazard. This makes no sense.
Belief not science
Perhaps the worst thing about the EWG Skin Deep database is that they are unwilling to modify their conclusions when new evidence comes to light. They base their actions on a belief and use science only when it supports what they want to believe. Since they are a politically motivated group, they are unable to accept new science which might indicate an ingredient is more safe than previously thought. There is not a single instance of them changing their stance on any cosmetic ingredient.
No courage of their convictions
But the most galling thing about the EWG is that they are hypocrites who either don’t believe what they say or are more interested in making money off people than protecting them from “dangerous” products. For example, they list a Hall of Shame for sunscreens. In it they list specific products that are typical of “…what’s wrong with the sun protection business.” Of course, this does not stop them from making money through their Amazon Affiliate program by selling those same products. For example, they list Aveeno Baby Protection Sunblock as a Hall of Shame sunscreen because it is dangerous for babies but they’ll happily take your money if you want to buy the product.
This means they either do not care that they are making money off of products that they believe are dangerous…or…they don’t believe the products are really dangerous. Either way, it’s shifty.
EWG and cosmetic chemists
If the EWG & the CFSC is to be believed, cosmetic chemists are evil people who do not care about the safety of the formulas they create. I think this is BS.
Read more at http://chemistscorner.com/3-reasons-the-ewg-is-dubious-resource/#dPVwpliSCrT5Di2P.99
EWG.org (part 2)
Still learning ...
This is from the 'Honest Company' website - even they are getting frustrated with EWG.
"We’d like to take a moment to point out what we’ve learned since the release of their latest guide.
1. It’s data aggregation – NOT product testing.
EWG’s assessment is chemical-by-chemical. They don’t take into consideration ingredient concentration or test final product formulation. Their site even has this disclaimer: “The ratings below indicate the relative level of concern posed by exposure to the ingredients in this product – not the product itself.”
Imagine if you tried using a recipe database that only assessed the flavors of individual ingredients at full strength. You wouldn’t want to eat a mouthful of salt, or raw egg, or flour, or probably any other ingredient that goes into a cupcake. But mixed in just the right amounts, baked just the right way, a cupcake is divine. That’s the magic of chemistry!
Product formulations work the same way.
For example, we use a preservative in our dish soap called methylisothiazolinone. Some people have expressed concern over this ingredient due to studies based on full-strength or high-exposure levels. In real life, exposures are quite small. In this situation, methylisothiazolinone is used at very low levels—parts per million (one part per million = one drop in a 55 gallon drum).
To give you an even deeper understanding of our use of this preservative, you should know that in 2004, the European Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers (SCCNFP) suggested that companies limit the maximum concentration to 0.01% (100 ppm). The concentration in our dish soap is well below these standards at .00003% (just enough to battle the microbials that will eventually grow in a liquid product and cause a whole host of other health risks). Yes, concentration counts!
Another aspect of product formulation overlooked in a chemical-by-chemical assessment is the chemistry of acids and bases. Sometimes ingredients balance or neutralize one another resulting in a final product that’s safer than the individual ingredients. (We’ll get to that science lesson another day.)
2. A Catch-22 for companies.
In our efforts to help EWG better understand the safety of our formulations, as well as our efforts to better understand their methodology, we spoke with several top staff – repeatedly – at every level. Fulfilling our commitment to transparency and consumer education, we wanted to find a way to collaborate and help EWG not only assess our Honest products in a more legitimate manner, but ALL the products they rated.
The Honest Company offered to share our complete product formulations—that means 100% transparency of concentrations of each individual ingredient. This offer was received with mixed feelings from EWG. We were told that if we shared our formulation, they would be compelled to share that information with the public. We’re happy to let the world know what ingredients we use, and we even thought about disclosing the ranges of percentages, but to share the exact formulation…c’mon EWG, you know that needs to remain proprietary.
On top of this Catch-22, we were later told that even if they did see our exact formulations, they didn’t have the capacity, resources, or robust scientific understanding to fully assess them.
But, wait…if they don’t have the capacity to assess product formulations, why are they rating products?
Which leads us to perhaps the biggest problem with the endeavor. They state that the main goal of the guide is to compel transparency and a large part of the grading system is based on ingredient disclosure. But by trying to weigh how transparent a company is while trying to rate the toxicity of the ingredients used ends up creating a confusing algorithm and misleading results. It’s like trying to grade a student on a music performance and a book report simultaneously. The final grade doesn’t really tell me how the student fared on either effort in any useful way.
EWG does an impressive job of pulling a ton of information together into one searchable database. But the system is far from infallible and cannot be substituted for actual product testing. It’s a starting point for better understanding the chemicals in your products, but definitely not an ending point for understanding specific products. We’re hoping our conversations and thoughtful assessments of EWG’s guide can help them, industry, and regulators find ways improve how products are assessed and how they communicate that to the public."
I'm on a roll here!
Found a super-duper website devoted to cosmetic chemistry. I won't post all the goodies here, as this post is way long by now, but here is a quick link to get you started reading. Click all of his articles - they are fascinating!