• Joan Rothchild Hardin

Environmental Working Group’s Top 10 Tips for Safer Cosmetics

After receiving a handy wallet-sized card called QUICK TIPS FOR SAFER COSMETICS: A GUIDE TO NAVIGATING PERSONAL CARE PRODUCT LABELS, from the Environmental Working Group’s SKIN DEEP project, I decided to revisit the important topic of the unsafe ingredients in our personal care products:

  • Soaps

  • Skin moisturizers

  • Lip products

  • Hand sanitizers

  • Sunscreens

  • Hair care products

  • Toothpastes

  • Nail polishes

You too can get a copy of this nifty card if you donate $5 to the Environmental Working Group.  EWG does excellent work trying to protect us from harmful ingredients. I hope you’ll help support them with a donation of $5 or more. Here’s a link to their site. The EWG has done extensive research on over 69,000 personal care products to compile the safety information in their SKIN DEEP Cosmetics Database. Their research standards are well above the government’s standards. They examine product concerns such as:

  • Overall hazards

  • Cancer links

  • Developmental and reproductive toxicity

  • Allergies

As the EWB points out: Our cosmetics and personal care products are under regulated and often include chemicals that have not been well tested. The US government allows cosmetics’ manufacturers to include almost any ingredient in their products. The US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to require safety tests on these products or recall any product that proves to be harmful. OTHER EWG GUIDES The EWG  also publishes other useful guides:

  • Healthier Cleaning Products

  • Good Food on a Tight Budget

  • A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health

  • A Guide to Summer Sun

  • A Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

EWG’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce


Sample information from EWG’s SKIN DEEP project’s mobile app that lets you obtain hazard on over 69,000 personal care products by scanning their barcodes ALL THE INFORMATION BELOW IS FROM EWG’S SKIN DEEP DATABASE – AS POSTED ON THEIR WEBSITE The American government doesn’t require health studies or pre-market testing of the chemicals in personal care products, even though just about everyone is exposed to them. Through Skin Deep, we put the power of information in consumers’ hands. When you know what’s in the products you bring into your home and how those chemicals may affect your health and the environment, you can make informed purchasing decisions — and help transform the marketplace. At the same time, we advocate responsible corporate and governmental policies to protect the most vulnerable among us. EWG created our Skin Deep database as a way to combat the serious deficiencies in cosmetics regulation. Still navigating store aisles can be difficult. Environmental Working Group researchers have evaluated hundreds of safety studies and thousands of ingredient labels to bring you our top recommendations for what not to buy. SHOPPING TIPS

By Product Type: Soap

Avoid: triclosan and triclocarban. Skin moisturizer and lip

Avoid: Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol products in daytime products

Hand sanitizers

Pick: ethanol or ethyl alcohol in at least 60%alcohol Sunscreen just say no:

  • SPF above 50

  • Retinyl palmitate

  • Aerosol spray and powder sunscreen

  • Oxybenzone

  • Added insect repellent


Say yes to:

  • Hats and shade in the mid-day sun

  • Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide as active ingredients, otherwise Avobenzone (at 3%)

  • SPF 15 to 50, depending on your own skin coloration, time outside, shade and cloud cover.

  • Use a lot and reapply frequently

Hair Care

Avoid or limit:

  • Dark permanent hair dyes

  • Chemical hair straighteners


Avoid: triclosanNailsAvoid:

  • Formaldehyde or formalin in polish, hardeners or other nail products.

  • Toluene and Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in polish.

  • Pregnant? Skip polish

Tips for babies and young children Children are not little adults. Pound for pound, kids are exposed to more contaminants in air, water, food, and personal care products than adults. Immature organ systems are often less capable of fending off chemical assaults. Subtle damage to developing bodies may lead to disease later in life. Parents can make healthy choices by using fewer personal care products for their children, ignoring ad hype and following these tips: Baby wipes Avoid:

  • Bronopol

  • DMDM hydantoin

  • Fragrance

Diaper cream


  • BHA

  • Boric acid

  • Fragrance


Use a small amount of fluoride-free toothpaste until kids can reliably rinse and spit

(none for kids under 2). Use child-strength toothpaste for children 6 and younger. Use only a pea sized amount and supervise child’s brushing and rinsing (to minimize swallowing) Sunscreen

Infants under 6 months don’t belong in the sun and they shouldn’t wear sunscreen. For older babies and children, use protective clothing and sunscreen that provides good UVA and UVB protection. Use enough and reapply often. Baby powder

Skip it! Just like auto exhaust or secondhand smoke, tiny airborne particles can damage baby’s delicate, developing lungs Tips for teens and tweens Teens use cosmetics. Sometimes lots of them. From hair gels and straighteners to eye make-up, body wash and lotions. And then some! Knowing which ones are healthy — and which ones aren’t — is important. Why? EWG found that adolescent girls’ bodies are contaminated with chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and body care products. In fact, we detected 16 potentially toxic chemicals — phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks — in blood and urine samples from 20 teen girls. Studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption. To make matters worse, teens may be particularly sensitive to exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals, given the complex role they play during puberty – precisely when girls typically experiment with an increasing number and variety of body care products. When we surveyed them, our teen study participants reported using an average of 17 personal care products each day, 40 percent more than an adult woman. Teens can easily make safer choices by reducing the number of body care products they use, viewing marketing claims with skepticism, always checking the ingredients for toxics (a good lifelong habit!), and following EWG guidelines to select safer products: Acne products


  • Triclosan

  • Parabens

  • PEG/cetearetj/polyethylene

Perfume, cologne, and body spray


  • Diethyl phthalate

  • “Fragrance” (listed as an ingredient)