The Environmental Working Group is a company that many of you probably heard of especially if you've been on the 'natural' kick for a while now. Their skin deep database holds a lot of clout and the numbers they give out for safety are the human equivalent of a BMI number (the lower, the better). It is a very informative tool that teaches you what to avoid. Anyone who wants to use this should go to this website to see a full safety report using national and international databases.
Dermatologists that I have worked with have told me that more and more of their patients are introducing the EWG into conversation. While this access to information can be empowering, like all things, it's best to keep those numbers into perspective. The way EWG measures safety can at times be questionable and without doing some homework yourself, you might be misled by their report.
Here are some areas where misinformation can arise:
1. Natural & Synthetic
Here's an example of two shampoos who both achieved a ranked of "2" on their report, Terressentials Cool Mint Pure Earth Hair Wash and Giovanni's Magnetic Energizing Shampoo. Terressentials is for most part an all natural herb-infused mud for hair while the Giovanni shampoo uses synthetics such as Cocamidopropyl Betaine (a risk score of 5). So how did they both arrive at the same score? The Giovanni shampoo offsets their chemical with a host of herbs that rate a 0 to pull down the score. The Terressentials shampoo is flagged a '4' for their ingredient 'clay minerals' which is not identifiable to EWG, however similar natural ingredients such as Kaolin clay pass with flying colors. Because the herb-infused mud is purer, there are less ingredients to offset this outlying mark that shouldn't have been given in the first place.
So while on EWG the two look equal, in reality you're comparing a very natural mud shampoo infused with select herbs with a synthetic detergent shampoo that is loaded with herbs.
2. Double check the ingredients list
There are many times that a product will be reformulated or is entered with an error on the database. For example Hylunia recently began reformulating their products to include Phenoxyethanol, but some of the products on their database with low scores do not have this listed.
3. Read the actual concerns cited in studies
EWG relies on a broad system of studies looking for the ingredient as the key word and not the use. For instance, Aloe Vera is listed as having cancer risks yet it is one of the safest most effective skin ingredients that have been used since prehistoric times. The study in question could have been done on intravenous consumption of aloe vera and in high doses (that exceed even abnormally high concentrations) over a prolonged period of time in lab testing environments, maybe it did lead to cell mutation. This would cause it to receive that risk label, but I can assure you that even if you bathed in aloe every day of your life, it will not trigger cancer growth.
EWG is a wonderful tool but like all tools designed to help us, we have to know how to use it effectively otherwise it could get in the way. It's important to note that EWG is constantly working to improve and tune it's metrics which I applaud.