Making the Grade

In my own green journey, and as research for both past and upcoming blog posts, I've been taking a closer look at the ingredients of many products I use daily. One area I'm working on and upgrading is my skincare and makeup products. If it can seep into my skin, it shouldn't be toxic.

I've written before about the Environmental Working Group, but here's where I put my research to the test.

Who is this group?

EWG is not just a group of hippies with a website who shuns mainstream products. They are a legitimate nonprofit organization, with a pretty large staff, and they use thorough research to better educate consumers on food, skin products, water and the environment so we can make educated choices.

I first learned about the group a few years ago with their list of the Dirty Dozen foods, the ones most likely to be doused in pesticides and most recommended to buy organic. Since then, I've learned just how expansive their focus is.

And they are constantly doing research. Back in May, I wrote about nontoxic nail polish and referred to the EWG guide for some points. Recently, there was an update posted on their website about new scores for nail polish based on new research about triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). So you know that scores on the website are not necessarily outdated.

How do I use it?

Whatever category you're looking into, select it from the main page. I'll use Skin Deep for this post's purposes. Select a subcategory and dive in to the list of brands and products. You can also search for a specific product. The lower the numbered score, the lower the health hazard, on a scale of 1-10.

The overall score is an average of each ingredient's score, and each ingredient is broken out and listed with its own rating and explanation.

The information gives you a basis to make a decision on whether you want to continue using the product, or help you search for a better alternative. Maybe fragrance doesn't bother you. But maybe you have sensitive skin and heavy fragrance causes a rash or skin outbreak. The database can help you check products before you spend the money to try it yourself.

As with everything, EWG has a legal disclaimer, so you take this with however much salt you please.

Show me how it works.

Bossy! But let's do this. Let's grade a few of my current bathroom products.
  • Lubriderm daily moisturizing lotion with sunscreen: The closest match I found is the 2012 formulation, and it doesn't give great results:
    • With an overall score of 6 (out of 10), the lotion scores an 8 on the fragrance and oxybenzone ingredients. According to EWG research, these contribute to Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive); and Enhanced skin absorption, Biochemical or cellular level changes, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Persistence and bioaccumulation, Use restrictions.
  • Old Spice deodorant: First, shut it. I don't like most girly deodorants. And my time using a natural alternative did not smell great. I am working on finding another natural alternative. However, surprisingly:
    • A 3 out of 10! Once again, fragrance is the worst ingredient, with an 8.
  • Tom's of Maine toothpaste: Alriiiiight! A good score! I would hope so at least, since I made this switch a couple years ago to be more natural. 
    • The toothpaste gets an overall 2 out of 10. Highest ingredient concern is "flavor" with a 4. Concerns? Miscellaneous. Ooookay. Don't want to poison my miscellanies, but I do like the minty flavor.
  • Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer: So I bought this a few days ago without reading the ingredients, and plan to bring it back since I noticed it contains the blasted parabens.
    • The overall 6 score isn't as bad as I thought it would be, but there are 3 ingredients in the high-danger range: fragrance, propylparaben and DMDM hydantoin (a formaldehyde releaser). I mean, I just want the lazy girl's half-assed winter tan. But maybe not with a side of formaldehyde...
  • La Vanila Vanilla Blackberry perfume: Y'all. This is my favorite brand of perfume. Paraben-free and all that jazz. But that damn fragrance is causing a negative skew on the score. Shame, because it smells SO. GOOD.
    •  Overall score of 5. Fragrance is an 8, SD Alcohol 1 is a 4, and all the rest of the ingredients are 1s. This is one product where I make the decision to keep it. Because again. It smells so good.
  • Burberry Brit: Oh. Well. At least I have La Vanila!
    • Overall score of 10. Out of 10. Most ingredients are high on the allergy/immunotoxicity radar. One ingredient scores a 1, and it's water.
  • Opti Free Replenish: Not in the database. Works for me, because I'm not sure there is a natural alternative to contact lens solution...and I don't mess around with contact lens care.
  • Burt's Bees Deep Cleansing Cream: This stuff smells strangely amazing and I've grown to love it. After writing about microbeads, I wanted to stay far away from conventional face washes, and quite enjoy what Burt's Bees produces.
    • Overall 4 out of 10, with sodium borate being the worst offending ingredient. Can cause Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions.

So there you have it. A rating of some of Caitlin's bathroom products. Not too bad, but can definitely be improved.

What about on-the-go?

Since I've been looking into my makeup upgrade, I've been researching organic brands both on EWG and on blogs or wellness lists, which is great when I'm on my laptop, curled up with a cat or two in my lap. But then I get to the store and forget what I read a few weeks prior.

And then I stand there, furiously trying to Google brands and getting overwhelmed with search results and different recommendations. So I downloaded three EWG apps: SkinDeep, Dirty Dozen and Food Scores. With the apps, you can search for products or scan its barcode to get results. Yay! Instant gratification fulfilled.

To test the SkinDeep app, I scanned the barcode of my favorite chapstick, Burt's Bees. And here's what popped up almost instantly:

So, not as great as I thought...considering I apply chapstick approximately 924 times a day. But I can handle an allergy threat, so it won't stop me from using the brand.

But this app will come in extremely handy when I'm shopping for skincare or beauty products, and want to compare a few products.

The Dirty Dozen app serves as a reminder of which produce items should be bought organic.

And the Food Scores app works similarly to Skin Deep, where you can grade tons of food products.

Again, take it all with however many grains of salt you want, but it does open your eyes a little bit to just what's in so many products we use daily.

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