EWG’s Cosmetic Database

One of my objectives for this year is to be more aware of the chemicals in my personal care products. I’m fairly aware of the chemicals and additives in food products, but I often forget about the things I put on my skin, in my hair, and use to clean my house.

A couple years ago I read Jillian Michael’s Master Your Metabolism and so much of it focused on the environmental factors that affect your hormones and have an impact on your body. Things like BPA in plastics and the VOC in air fresheners and cleaning products all are creep into your body through daily exposure and we don’t think twice.

Upon finishing the book, I made some changes. I threw away all our plastic containers that were not BPA free (If you are interested in this, I highly recommend you watch Tapped), I bought us steel water bottles, and I got rid of that thing that sits in the bathroom and spits out a fragrant mist every 12 minutes. I didn’t completely overhaul our home and get rid of every potential “hazard”, but I made some changes in the right direction.

Fast forward to November when my bestie came out from California. She is all sorts of fabulous and always has the best skin/beauty/makeup products, so I was excited to raid her bag. I was surprised to see a plethora of brands I had never seen.

Her response? “Have you been on EWG’s cosmetic database?”

Oy…I had never even heard of it, and quite frankly, I was scared to look. What if all my favorite products were laced with the nastiest chemicals and carcinogens?


She explained that she recently went on a MAJOR overhaul of her home and threw out anything and everything that had potential danger to her health. I was so enthralled with this gusto and wanted her to tell me more….and more….and more. It was so crazy and semi-hippie and I really loved it. If I was at her house when this clean-out was going on, I would of been cheering her on like crazy (but also maybe taking a couple items here and there).  I envied her commitment to keeping her body and home free of harmful substances, but I still had reservations about making changes in my lifestyle.

A couple weeks later, I found the courage to visit this scary site and see what was going on. Knowledge is power, right? Well, I spent a cool 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon looking up shampoo, lotion, perfume, soap, cleaning products, laundry products, and make-up. The cosmetic database doesn’t have everything, but it has over 78K products and rates them each on a scale of 1-10.


I had some very interesting insights that I wanted to share.

1. Companies that brand themselves as “eco” or “organic” are not always rated very low on the hazard scale. Wolves in sheep’s clothing…that means it’s important to read labels carefully. Just because there is a picture of a leaf on the front of the bottle doesn’t mean it’s all-natural. 

2. I was shocked that almost ALL my husbands personal care products were in the 2-4 range on the hazard scale. He has pretty sensitive skin and I found it so interesting that all his products, despite not being “natural” were very low in chemicals. Without any knowledge of what was in the product, his favorites were based on what he preferred. Clearly, his skin is not a fan of chemicals. 

3. I assumed all the ‘big brand’ products would be terrible. That’s not the case. Some are, but some of my standard products were a-okay. 

4. Some of the worst scores were on perfume. I love perfume and will continue to wear it, but my collection ranged from a 4-9 on the hazard scale. 

5. Loose powders carry inhalation risk. This means that the product itself may be fine for the skin, but when using it, breathing in the product can be harmful. After reading about this, I was petrified to look up my beloved Bare Escentuals.  When I finally did it, I was relived that overall, the company uses ingredients that carry little risk. Their loose powders carried a low “2” on the hazard scale and my favorite skin primer, Prime Time is a “1”.

So what’s next? Now that I know, what am I going to do about it? 

Well, I’m going to try to make small changes where I can. I’m not willing to overhaul my whole bathroom cupboard (yet), but when I run out of a product, I am going to do what I can to ensure that my next purchase is informed, and I know the potential risk of the ingredients. What I’m not going to do is sacrifice quality. I want products that do their job, and won’t harm my health. Is that too much to ask? 

Thus far, it’s been a rocky start.

Exhibit A:

Natural deodorant. As someone that works out regularly, and enjoys a good quality sweat session, deodorant is important. I slather on the serious stuff, so this was definitely jumping into the deep end. I had heard a couple things about ingredients in deodorant contributing to cancer and it didn’t sit right with me and I was motivated to make a change. I made the mistake of NOT doing my research and just assuming everything at Whole Foods would be a better option. I basically just chose one that smelled the best and boasted “no aluminum” and crossed my fingers it would work. 
coconut milk, ground cloves, hippie deodorant, what does your purchase say about you?

So, here’s the kicker:

I used it for about two weeks before looking it up on EWG’s cosmetic database and guess what I found? My old trusty deodorant from Target (that works like a champion) had the same score and a LOWER ingredient concern for cancer.

Joke is on me, right? Here I am trying to be more conscious and I spend 6 bucks on a deodorant that works half as well, makes my armpits feel sticky, AND carries more ingredients that put my body at risk? No Thanks.

Clearly, I’m going to be doing my research PRIOR to hitting the store.

Some articles of interest:

This is going to be a gradual process with a big learning/experimenting curve, so you will probably be hearing about his periodically. I believe the concept of healthy living goes far beyond food and exercise and I want to take a step in the right direction to ensure I’m paying attention to products that have an impact on my well being. 

Have you heard of this site? 

What beauty product would you NOT be willing to give up or find a alternative to? Probably dry shampoo. I may reduce my usage, but I would find it difficult to eliminate completely. 

  • Ashley @ Hop Skip Jump

    I’ve never heard of EWG either! This is all so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • CateGoodForYou

    This is such a great post Sierra! Thanks for the link to the EWG website. I listen to Jillian Michael’s podcast and she has mentioned being aware of all the chemicals that are in the products you eat and use. Her book is on my to read list too. I have slowly transitioned a few of my products, but not everything yet. I am definitely going to check out this website though!

  • kelsey

    I feel like sometimes it’s better to just not know this kinda of stuff. Except I’m going on that website right now…

  • http://www.followingcs.blogspot.com/ Courtney

    I found this site when I was pregnant and looking to eliminate those chemicals–it’s hard though! I too figured everything at WF was better–not always. It has been hard for me to find products that are chemical free and still feel good on my skin (weird!?) But I’ve slowly found some brands that have less chemicals and that I like. Great post and links!

  • http://www.magmilerunner.com/ Maggie

    I’ve checked this site before but didn’t really change anything. However, my mascara got rated 6. Geez. And mascara is the one make-up product that I use daily. Guess it’s time for a change. At least my trusty Burts Bees Lip Balm got a 1.

  • http://twitter.com/catecrain Catherine Crain

    I’ve checked this site before and actually forgot about it (shame on me!). Like you, I am slowly making the change. It’s hard though, because I love beauty and skincare products. Although I have noticed in skincare that natural, organic, cruelty-free brands are becoming some of the main-stays. I need to over-haul more of my house hold items though!

  • Alison

    I use Tom’s unscented deodorant and I love it. I think it works way better than Secret. Thanks for the information about this database!

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats

    Um, I’m definitely looking up all my products on here! And I’ve heard not so great reviews of “all natural” deodorants…

  • Nerri @ LaPetiteRunner

    terrifying and intriguing! i’m concerned for my bathroom cabinets … thanks for sharing!