Database of all the toxins in your cosmetics and personal care products

James sez, "The web site Skin Deep covers the issues related to the lack of oversight regarding the safety of cosmetics:"
Skin Deep is a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products brought to you by researchers at the Environmental Working Group.

Skin Deep pairs ingredients in more than 42,000 products against 50 definitive toxicity and regulatory databases, making it the largest integrated data resource of its kind. Why did a small nonprofit take on such a big project? Because the FDA doesn't require companies to test their own products for safety.

A sample listing:

Ingredients in this product are linked to:

Developmental/reproductive toxicity
Violations, restrictions & warnings
Other concerns for ingredients used in this product:
Neurotoxicity, Endocrine disruption, Persistence and bioaccumulation, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Multiple, additive exposure sources, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Enhanced skin absorption, Contamination concerns, Occupational hazards, Biochemical or cellular level changes

The level of detail is amazing.

Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews (Thanks, James!)


  1. Hey, apple seeds have cyanide in them, too…cyanide has been linked to swift and horrible death.

    People, you have a liver for a reason…let it work and relax.

  2. “Toxins” is not the word you want to use.

    A toxin is a toxic substance produced by a living organism. Example: botulic toxin (AKA Botox®) is a toxin. 99% of the things that are going to be listed in that database linked here are not toxins.

    The definition is important because the word “toxin” is used (incorrectly) mostly by kooks, such as anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, who happens to be a fan of … Botox®.

  3. So, like, how accurate are these things? My eyeliner is a 4, and my mascara is a 7, and I am feeling a little worried about horrible eye cancers.

  4. While I think that this is quite a good idea, since I’ve been rather suspicious (but not tinfoil hat) about what’s in anything that doesn’t include complete ingredients or seems to hide what’s in the product, there are a few problems with either their data set or the way they’re presenting the data.

    Let me give you an idea. I did a search for the different products in our household (all fairly safe, but no big surprise that toothpaste scored higher than expected–you’re not supposed to swallow it). But I encountered an oddity in the expanded break-down of concerns for TOM’S OF MAINE NATURAL FLUORIDE-FREE TOOTHPASTE FOR CHILDREN, SILLY STRAWBERRYS, specifically in the concerns regarding bioaccumulation.

    In addition to Calcium Carbonate and hydrated Silica, the site documents that water is a concerning ingredient because it is persistent and bioaccumulative.


    If anything, that’s a plus. Just not the hydrated silica and all the rest of the stuff in my kid’s toothpaste.

  5. ARGH, PANIC! Our cosmetics is going to kill us!
    Truth is, lots of chemicals used in cosmetics, food, anything are toxic, carcinogenic, whatever. Crucial is the amount of this stuff in the products. In low concentrations they are pretty harmless. If you live near a road, you breathe stuff that is much more nasty.

  6. Ugh. Hypochondriacs annoy me.

    I know an envirotoxicologist, who puts it this way: everything will kill you, but it might also save you.

    the best beauty tip is to use little make up, moisturise(with the cheap stuff) and keep out of the sun

  7. Toxin has a very specific definition I kind of wish people would stop throwing the word around. Not saying this stuff is not bad for you just when I hear the word toxin it makes me think unscientific fear mongering.

     /ˈtɒksɪn/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [tok-sin] Show IPA
    any poison produced by an organism, characterized by antigenicity in certain animals and high molecular weight, and including the bacterial toxins that are the causative agents of tetanus, diphtheria, etc., and such plant and animal toxins as ricin and snake venom.

  8. Have you ever read a jar of babyfood? You’re worried about this stuff?

    Admittedly, I wouldn’t go near most of it – clearly polluted. But the days of being scared of everything are over, now that expres. Bushes and their cronies are well out of earshot. Gobama.

    The unfortunate thing is in 300 years there’ll be adequate data to properly understand the toxicity of these substances on the human body from the cellular level to the overall human lifecycle. We’re just guinea pigs at the end of the first century of mass-marketed gunk. Alzheimers is probably caused by deodorant. We’re all going to die.

    Stay natural – eat well, drink water – fresh skin and tight buns count for so much more than plastered on rubbish. “We can’t all be Angelina Jolie” (or Brad Pitt, thank god).

    And minimise your interaction with crap. Have fun, enjoy, be lovely, but get one thing and stick to it. Most Swiss things are excellent, highly recommended.

  9. @#1 Got to agree with you – cyanide is a very common ingredient in our lives – apple seeds, ferns, bitter almonds … I had a thing for bitter almonds until I noticed heart palpitations and general bio-mess when I had too many … did some reading and presto! I’d been poisoning myself. The Great Santini.

    I also ate a pear stalk once – and had breathing difficulties for 10 minutes. Nice.

    I’m really much more concerned about lead. They took it out of the gas, but not out of the guns. Big problem.

  10. In its gaseous state it causes horrible burns, over exposure to the substance leads to suffocating. It has been found in all cancerous cells. Major food shortage and natural disasters are linked to this substance.

    yeah, water.

  11. all of this comes from the toxicity reports required by the government.

    Wanna get scared shitless? Read the toxicity report for water…Yep, plain old water, right outta the tap.

    The point is that the toxicity reports are scary as hell if you don’t know how to read them…and the majority of people out there don’t know how to read them.

    there’s a lethal dosage limit (LDL) for every substance known to man.

    I have to be careful shopping for cosmetics because my skin is so sensitive I break out in a rash if you look at me funny…and I’m still not all that fussed about toxicity. I figure if it’s gentle enough to NOT make me break out in red splotches, it’s probably safe enough to use long-term.

  12. “Fragrance” and “citric acid” are both apparently noted for neurotoxicity, among other faults. Granted, fragrance is often obnoxious, but it’s so general that we effectively can’t really say anything about it, good or bad.

    If citric acid is toxic, all us obligate aerobes are in trouble.

  13. Everything will kill you if you have enough of it. Flouride isn’t in the water where I live (Christchurch, New Zealand), but I wish it was as it has been shown to significantly reduce dental decay in children. We don’t have chlorine in our water either, but that is because it’s been filtered and submerged for a thousand years in underwater aquifers.

    I use aqueous cream as a moisturiser. Nothing beats paraffin wax and oil, and nothing is as cheap! It’s not even on the list it’s so awesome.

    1. We don’t have chlorine in our water either, but that is because it’s been filtered and submerged for a thousand years in underwater aquifers.

      We have the same thing. Of course, it’s so full of kidney- and gallstone forming minerals that you don’t even need a glass to contain it.

  14. Aaaah…some of these substances may be mutagenic, and as such would require a human generation (or three) to reveal themselves. So science must continue observations.
    As to whether or not to personally use these substances, the important thing is to maintain a respect (healthy IMO) for the unknown, and to be prudent. Which means to adapt your behavior as risks are revealed.
    That’s what learning (individual or group) is all about.
    And you know even water has a lethal dose – unlike marijuana!!

  15. Come on!

    The dose makes the poison. Some things are only dangerous eaten but can go on skin without a problem. Others only become dangerous at 300F when they vaporize and you breathe them.

    This site is ridiculous because it leaves you feeling that ‘nothing is safe’. All scaremongering.

    Look back 100 years and see the chemicals that used to be in cosmetics…things that were actually banned because they caused actual harm. The low hanging fruit is gone and the EWG is left to test cosmetics for parts per trillion amounts of chemicals that only hurt people in their imaginations. They should spend their time catching importers who cheat and still put real poisons into low-grade cosmetics.

    When you figure out how to make all of man’s products from proven-safe rainbows and unicorn farts, let me know.

  16. Amuderick: look back 175 years, and there’s no modern chemistry, at all.
    We know very little indeed about bio-chemistry: don’t be blinded by the advances of the past century or so. There is very very much that we don’t know or understand, particularly how these things interact with each other in the human body.
    And what m ay be “non-toxic” to the individual, may have effects which become only visible upon reproduction (hi, thalidomide!), sometimes not revealing that effect until the third or fourth generation.
    And many of the newer molecules (used in pharmaceuticals/industry) simply do not exist in nature.
    I’m not saying not to use these things: I’m just saying that folks ought to keep notes….

  17. Many folks have sensitivities to various chemicals and some are more affected than others. This site is great for making decisions on which products to use as many don’t include the ingredients on the label.

    What it all comes down to is more information about what you are putting on or taking into your body so you can make an educated decision.

    Slight variations from product to product within the same brand can be important. If I have the choice between two hand creams – Same price, same effect on my skin, why wouldn’t I choose the one without the carcinogenic compounds in it?

  18. Cory, I think you should have looked closer at this website as the listings seem scary at first glance, but upon closer inspection many are likely quite harmless in their respective doses. For example, I looked up Dr. Bronner’s soap and found that it has a neurotoxin: citric acid. Should I be worried about citric acid in my soap? No. But “neurotoxin” sounds quite scary to the layman. It also lists a carcinogen: tocopherols. Tocopherols are a subject of debate right now, with some studies suggesting that these chemicals (some of which have “vitamin E activity”) can decrease some cancers in some people and increase some cancers in other people. It’s just not clear at all. Plus, I’m not ingesting the soap!

    So this creates a problem for the average user. Some of the chemical listings may in fact be dangerous, but when they are presented alongside things like citric acid, who is able to distinguish the benign from the malign? The few thousand toxicologists out there? This is a shotgun approach, maybe it’s a good way to retrieve a directory of ingredients in your cosmetics, but the directory would be much more valuable if the truly dangerous ingredients were somehow brought to the fore.


  19. .
    The second job I had after high school was in a huge chemical plant in NJ. (The first job was in a toy factory, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) They had their own train station. The plant covered a larger area than the town I grew up in, all along the Raritan River. Upstream, the river was full of delicious fish and great to swim in. Downstream of the plant, you probably could have developed film in that water, if you didn’t care about the pictures. American Cyanamid’s Bound Brook plant is now a Superfund site.

    One night I was walking down the company street of this big scary factory town, and a mist came drifting across the street. I took one step into it and realized that it wasn’t fog. It was acid mist. Somebody made a boo-boo. A friend of mine accidentally diverted an entire production run of some nasty liquid chemicals into the swamps out back, which drained into the Raritan just upstream from New Brunswick. It was pretty deadly stuff, but we never heard a word about it. My friend got demoted for wasting chemicals, not chemical waste. He wasn’t a very good manager, anyway. Twenty-one years old and always high.

    My job was to mix the deadliest chemical potion in our whole building, according to the manual: MSG, for cattle worming pills. Everything we made was put into food or medicine for animals, or for people. We also made a number of popular cosmetics products, like Breck shampoo and Old Spice cologne, in case you were wondering why it smells so bad. Anyway, at some point, you ate, drank, dosed yourself or applied something to your skin that was made in that plant, if you ever lived anywhere in the US.

    Then there was my friend the chemist at Chanel, America. You don’t want to know what goes in Number Five. Oh, OK. It’s Number One. And a bit of Number Two. But don’t worry. It isn’t human.

  20. “I’m really much more concerned about lead. They took it out of the gas, but not out of the guns. Big problem.”

    That’s why I use uranium 238 rounds.

  21. Calcium Carbonate is the main ingredient in Tums and also how most of us receive our needed calcium from vitamins. As such, it should be bioaccumulative, you dont want the calcium leaching out of your bones!

  22. Yeah, Skin Deep rules. I check it on my iPhone while I’m at the drug store and I’ve avoided buying so much overpriced cancer goo that way.

  23. I’m one of those chemically sensitive people who need to avoid fragrances of all types. I assume some of the chemicals are messing with my brain because 95% of that crap – from candles to fabric softener to dish soap – will give me a raging migraine within minutes. For the “canaries in the coal mines” Skin Deep is the only place to find information that does not toe the industry line. There is a reason that the flavor & fragrance industry lobbies so effectively to keep the FDA from regulating the addition of these chemicals to almost every product in your home or office.

  24. As there are a number of parents on this site, there is some tangential info you might find useful.

    Children’s makeup in the US does not fall under the legal definition of “cosmetics” but rather “toys.” Thus, they are not examined by the FDA for dangerous chemical substances the way adult makeup is.

    If you have children who beg for those cutesy little makeup kits, take a look at the ingredient list. It’s pretty scary stuff. You’re better off letting them use samples of adult makeup.

  25. Step 1: Transparency of ingredients (and that’s been its own uphill struggle for groups like these)

    Step 2: Exact environmental and health effects, if any, at what dosages, in single and synergistic reactions. Expensive long-term studies, any donors, takers?

  26. @22 – Please do not assume that makeup intended for adult use has been “examined” or regulated by the FDA. The industry has lobbied successfully to allow manufacturers to essentially self-police these products and processes. Adult makeup is no safer than anything labeled as a “toy”.

  27. LaurenO, our local soapmaker has some amazing mint/hemp lip balms, lotions, body oils and essences… Go to your local health food store and try out the all natural alternatives in skin care. (Though a lot of natural products have trace elements of dangerous heavy metals… oh well!) Still, I think you should be able to get those numbers a little lower. But I’m with you! Chapstick is Sacred!

  28. “Natural” apparently means nothing (at least, per this site). My toothpaste rates a 4, and it’s Tom’s of freaking Maine. The fluoride in it rates a 6, the unspecified “natural flavours” get a 4, and both glycerine and calcium carbonate get a 2.

    Glycerine, apparently, has organ toxicity effects; calcium carbonate has organ toxicity and bioaccumulation effects (I should hope it accumulates in the body, given that our bones are like half calcium carbonate…

  29. Keep in mind that these are the effects that have been caused by megadosing (generally) rats and mice. Toxicology testing in the U.S. is light years behind current science, and it should be updated.

    So, the tagline should read something like, “This is what happens when a rat is intravenously given 1,000 times the amount of mascara that you apply externally and wash off later in the day.”

  30. “Natural” apparently means nothing

    I’m happy to see more people starting to get that.

    Also, “children’s makeup?” I’m not a parent – is that normal?

  31. The language in the attached petition encourages:
    “pre-market safety tests” to “prove the safety of their products,” and that “products must pass a strict safety test” so that “products are fully assessed for safety.”
    I think this website is using scare tactics to promote more animal testing. I specifically choose some cosmetic companies (Urban Decay, for example) because they are against animal testing, yet on this site Urban Decay products have ratings of 3 to 8. Smells funny to me.

  32. When I hear “children’s makeup” I really hope they’re talking about the Halloween variety. It’s creepy enough that there are so many clothing lines that seem aimed at turning preteens into sex objects.

  33. When we were little, we got those Tinkerbell cologne and powder sets in the little glass containers and we’d make different potions, such as “freckle removing cream” and “witches brew.” That was fun. But I don’t think I want to know what they put in those kits back in the 70’s.

  34. More and more research is finding that LOW doses of stuff over a long period ain’t good for you. Much of the past research was barking up a different (not wrong) tree, looking at high doses. Yes, you have liver, but why be exposed to bad stuff when you don’t have to be? Simply look at the rate of breast and prostate cancers in the USA and you have to conclude that exposure to chemicals over the last 30 years will end up being the culprit. And don’t give the “they are just diagnosing it better” argument. If you have prostate cancer you know it eventually.

  35. Thanks, Takuan!

    Yeah, it’s scary how many little girls get those makeup sets. They’re often thrown in the kit with dress-up clothes. Or given as gifts by friends and relatives who know better and just love to yank the parents’ chains (oh, I wouldn’t know anything about being on the receiving end of that *cough* make up *cough* barbies *cough* high heeled “princess” slippers *cough*).

    I’m not saying that adult makeup is hunky-dory, anonymous @34, but there is a lot more background testing on the ingredients. Your point is good to keep in mind, though.

  36. Interested in the issue of low doses and why they matter? Watch the Environmental Working Group’s ( ’10 Americans’ presentation (it’s well worth the 22 minutes). It’s here:

    We created and maintain Skin Deep. To use it well, you need to understand the ‘data gap,’ which is a result of the complete lack of regulation for cosmetic products in the U.S. It’s hard to argue that it *won’t* harm you when there’ve been no tests.

    Also, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a great resource on laws and movement for change:

  37. Remember! Dose is important. Dose makes the difference between selenium in a vitamin pill, and death.

  38. @45- How do you know that the stuff you eat in the most natural, organic, pure and simple food isn’t toxic to you in the long term? Sure, we get the big obvious examples– that Japanese fiddlehead fern that’s ultra-tasty and also causes stomach cancer, or a delicious toxic mushroom, but what about all the millions of different compounds in natural food, many of which are natural insecticides and the like, and few of which we’ve bothered to study?

    Basically, why does anyone stop worrying about a compound just because it occurs naturally? Like being natural is some guarantee of safety?

  39. If you are really curious about what the chemicals are in things, and don’t mind wading through a little basic chemistry, try Ruth Winter’s books. They are very informative, sort of like a PDR of chemical ingredients.

  40. #37 Antinous

    Sounds like your drinking water contains bioaccumulative minerals. You should switch to some less “toxic”.

    1. Sounds like your drinking water contains bioaccumulative minerals.

      The poison is the water itself. Distilled water would be the most deadly. Too much water leaches electrolytes out of your system and that’s what causes water poisoning/water intoxication. Based on my sampling (two people) it seems to affect field researchers, all of whom say later, “I knew about it and I did it anyway. Damn.” Everything is poisonous at the right dosage. Even supplemental oxygen will suppress your natural breathing reflex. It’s a sick, sad world.

  41. Boy, good thing we have so many quality products available to detox ourselves with in this fine, fine day!

  42. vanity! All vanity! Is not the best paint on the fair face of your beloved the blood of your foe? Smeared hot and fresh from his still beating heart?

  43. 8. Chramer, gip die varwe mir (Shopkeeper, give me colour)
    Chramer, gip die varwe mir, Shopkeeper, give me colour
    die min wengel roete, to make my cheeks red,
    damit ich die jungen man so that I can make the young men
    an ir dank der minnenliebe noete. love me, against their will.
    Seht mich an, Look at me,
    jungen man! young men!
    lat mich iu gevallen! Let me please you!
    Minnet, tugentliche man, Good men, love
    minnecliche frouwen! women worthy of love!
    minne tuot iu hoch gemout Love ennobles your spirit
    unde lat iuch in hohen eren schouwen and gives you honour.
    Seht mich an Look at me,
    jungen man! young men!
    lat mich iu gevallen! Let me please you!
    Wol dir, werit, daz du bist Hail, world,
    also freudenriche! so rich in joys!
    ich will dir sin undertan I will be obedient to you
    durch din liebe immer sicherliche. because of the pleasures you afford.
    Seht mich an, Look at me,
    jungen man! young men!
    lat mich iu gevallen! Let me please you!

  44. There are a lot of sarcastic people commenting here about how water or citric acid are listed as toxic. You’re missing the point or don’t know how to read the info. Look at the product rating, not the individual substance rating. Tom’s of Maine products rate in the 0-5 range; Dr. Bronner’s in the 0-3 range. Seems pretty safe. It’s nice to have this resource to check products. They’re not regulated very closely, right? I agree the site could be presented in a clearer way so as not to alarm unnecessarily. Thanks for the post Cory.

  45. I discovered Skin Deep when looking for new eye makeup, since what I was wearing, after about 10 years, started to make my eyelids peel. I later found out it was contact dermatitis from ingredients that were toxic to my skin. Blech. Just my two cents!

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