A few years ago, I came across a site (Skin Deep) that promoted the idea of keeping a working database for all skin, hair, cosmetics, beauty products (etc. ) ingredients and expected those companies that wanted to be “endorsed” or at least “okayed” by Skin Deep to fill out extensive pages of information about their products including each ingredient, etc. etc.
As the owner of a natural aromatherapy products company (Yellowstar Essentials) I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that someone would take the time to create a database of chemicals found in cosmetics and also thought would be wise to use their site, enter all my products (one by one, ingredient by ingredient), which took forever just to add a few products, and still, (even though I use only all natural ingredients with essential oils) my products came up either unsearchable –because of some of the ingredients…i.e. essential oils, could not be found on their site, and because of this deemed “hazardous”. This confused me. Why were specific essential oils not found by their searchable database? And some, (if they were found) are considered more hazardous then certain deadly chemicals. This really got me scratching my head. So I did some searching and found that many people thought just as I did.
Here’s a little About SKIN DEEP (from their site)–
In 2004 we launched Skin Deep, an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products. Our aim was to fill in where companies and the government leave off: companies are allowed to use almost any ingredient they wish, and our government doesn’t require companies to test products for safety before they’re sold. EWG’s scientists built Skin Deep to be a one-of-a-kind resource, integrating our in-house collection of personal care product ingredient listings with more than 50 toxicity and regulatory databases.
• About the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
• Quick facts on Skin Deep
• Skin Deep Product and Ingredient Databases
• Data sources – toxicity, regulatory, and study availability databases
• Skin Deep’s Dual Rating Factors
There seems to be numerous problems plaguing the site, as well as more and more people having issues with the value of what they deem the “hazardous” materials used in most of today’s beauty products on the market.
I mean, I’m ALL FOR companies having to show every ingredient (and not just label FRAGRANCE–when they could be using harmful sysynthetic chemicals) but c’mon! If you are going to say that an ingredient is hazardous and put a number associated with that, at least be correct in your findings. Robert Tisserand wrote a post about essential oils in their database (or lack thereof) and his findings are in alignment with mine.
Needless to say, I haven’t finished adding all my products into Skin Deep’s database because of all the problems. Here’s the post by Robert Tisserand (one of my favorite aromatherapists!) from his website: Go Robert!!!
Check this out:
From lemon to rosewood – it’s only skin deep
It’s hard to tell how many essential oils are covered in Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group’s database, because if you put “essential oil” their search box, the results are pretty hit-and-miss. When I tried it, only 16 of the first 50 items listed were essential oils. Lemon oil, interestingly, was listed twice: CITRUS MEDICA LIMONUM (LEMON) OIL (hazard rating 0) and CITRUS MEDICA LIMONUM (LEMON) PEEL OIL (hazard rating 2). The second one is defined as: “volatile oil obtained from the fresh peel of of lemon, Citrus medica limonum.” The first one is not defined at all, but is also listed as “Lemon essential oil, Citrus limon (lemon) essential oil..” etc.
What were they thinking? Is one of these lemon leaf oil? Clearly not. Lemon flower oil? No again, and anyway it does not exist. Lemon essence oil? That’s theoretically possible, but I doubt that the authors of Skin Deep are familiar with essence oils, which are almost entirely used in food flavorings, and there’s no way that lemon essence oil is used in 618 personal care products. So, we have two different lemon fruit peel oils, from the same plant, but with different hazard ratings.
This is not an isolated example – you will also find separate pages for ANIBA ROSAEODORA (ROSEWOOD) and ANIBA ROSAEODORA (ROSEWOOD) OIL. (Note that rosewood essential oil is the only product of this tree.) But for ultimate strangeness, nothing beats: ANIBA ROSAEODORA (ROSEWOOD) FLOWER OIL. Ironically, the only concern for this item is listed as “Data Gaps”, but the real data gap is simply that rosewood flower oil does not exist! Except on the Skin Deep database, and once they have read this blog, I imagine not for much longer. Try this exercise – do a search for “rosewood flower oil” and let me know if you find any reference to such an oil.
Aniba rosaeodora is a very tall tree that grows in South American rainforest (see pic). Yes, it has flowers, but they are, tellingly, not fragrant. Distillation is typically carried out by the felling of a single tree, and the oil comes from the wood. I cannot imagine what rosewood flower oil, if it did exist (and if the flowers were fragrant) would cost. Well actually I can imagine, it would be hugely, massively expensive and again, you would not find it in too many personal care products.
The Environmental Working Group seems to know little about essential oils, and by the way they do not mention that Aniba rosaeodora is an officially threatened species. But, perhaps the word “environmental” in their title has nothing to do with sustainability. That’s not a sarcastic comment, I am genuinely wondering.
Returning to lemon oil, two pages and two hazard ratings for the same essential oil is odd. Very odd. Adding to the confusion, Skin Deep gives limonene a hazard rating of 6 (their scale is 0-10), and yet lemon oil consists of up to 76% limonene. So here’s what I’m wondering – when rating a product containing lemon oil for its hazardous-ness (the word “risk” is inappropriate here, for reasons I will discuss another day) should we go by lemon oil, or limonene? Perhaps it depends what’s on the product label. If it mentions “lemon oil” it’s a 0, if it mentions “lemon peel oil” it’s a 2, and if it mentions either one but also limonene (which has to happen for a product containing lemon oil in Europe, as you may know) then maybe it’s a 6?
The Skin Deep number game doesn’t really matter too much at this point. It’s only a website. But, if people were to start taking this seriously, we would be in a world of confusion.
Rosewood flower oil has a hazard rating of 0, which seems appropriate for a non-existent oil. It’s also listed as appearing in “0 products”. At least they got that part right.
Note to EWG – my consultancy services are available if you want help cleaning up. I’m just saying…
7 comments to From lemon to rosewood – it’s only skin deep
An excellent post, Robert, but the increasingly discredited Skin Deep database has even more flaws than the essential oils you have mentioned:
It just doesn’t work at all!