A blog for dum ideas that are too long to fit on my Facebook status

We’re All Going to Get Cancer and Die…according to EWG

A few months ago, I noticed a rash of Facebook postings about the Environmental Working Group‘s Skin Deep Comestic rating website.  The people posting (mostly female, and and mostly mothers, expecting mothers or hoping to someday be mothers) were FREAKING out over the information on this website and the threat that all these common products posed to their kids.  Now, let me first say that I completely understand a maternal/paternal instinct to protect your children from harm.  I get that.  Hell, I want to protect your children from harm and I don’t even know them.  BUT, after looking over this website, I’m convinced that it’s a load of crap and if you want to protect your kids from harm, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.

Okay, I'm spreading the word. This website SUCKS.

The EWG database has its own Facebook page, with 21,429 likes as I write this.  They are constantly posting updates with stories on which product now has carcinogens in it and what is dangerous.  Let me say that I have no doubt that there are products out there that contain ingredients that are REALLY bad for you.  Cigarettes come to mind because well, there is a lot of GREAT data out there on why they will kill you.  However, my beef with the EWG website is that it has a LOT of SHITTY data that basically tells you nothing at all.  Let’s explore with a little trip down logic lane.

Say I log into Facebook, everyone is FREAKING OUT over this site and all the crap in their products that is going to give everyone cancer and die.  Even people who are already dead.  This stuff will kill you, bring you back to life and then kill you again.  So I go to the website and since I’m concerned, I start to check out some of the products I use.  We’ll start with my cleanser, LAB Series for Men Multi Action Facewash.  I’d recommend right-clicking on that link so you can follow along.

Are you going to make my face fall off? Let's find out.

According to EWG, this product has a score of “3” and its health concern is “moderate.”  Okay…the site has a scale and it goes like this.  0-2 is low hazard (like splashing water on your face.  3-6 is moderate hazard (using my cleanser).  7-10 is high hazard (like using bleach on your face).  However, I’m making these comparisons up because EWG doesn’t really indicate what these scores mean.   0-10 is completely arbitrary and in terms of scales, I don’t even think that they put much though into it, as in, I don’t trust that a 6 score, is twice as hazardous as a 3 score.  It tells me NOTHING.

Oh, but maybe the “Health Concern” score will tell me something.  Apparently, the “Health Concern” for this product is also moderate.  What the hell does that mean?  Well, if you hold your cursor over the score, this gem of text comes up:

reflects combined hazards of all product ingredients.  actual health risks from product use, if any, will depend on the amounts of the ingredients absorbed into the body and individual vulnerability to health problems

So…again.  I’ve learned nothing from this site.  On a scale of 1-10, my product’s health risks (IF ANY) are equal to a 3, which is moderate.  Well, at least it’s not hazardous.  However, my biggest beef with this site is another scale called the “Data Score Key.”

As it’s name suggests, this indicates the amount of data that EWG uses to create their scores.  They word it as:

Data availability rating: the scope of ingredient safety data contained in Skin Deep®, and the number of studies available in the open scientific literature
The data for my product is “Limited” which on its face, doesn’t so bad.  Except, when you realize it’s a 5 point scale of: None, Limited, Fair, Good, Robust.  There are 3 HIGHER LEVEL scores than the one they gave my product.  It’s one better than none, meaning they could have found one SHITTY study and used it to create this score.  It would help MAYBE if they told you how many peer-reviewed studies they needed to go up each scale, but no.  We have no idea.
The site also has the feature where you can scroll though the ingredients in your product and see the what makes them so hazardous.  They also put the “Data” score for each ingredient.  Here’s how the score came out.
None: 4
Fair: 7
Limited: 13
Good: 0
Robust: 1
Want to know the secret ingredient that had the “Robust” score?  I’ll give you a hint, it’s composition is H2O.  That’s right, FUCKING WATER.
So what’s the point of all this.  Again, this is just another example of bad data masquerading as usable/important data.  This website has a flashy display and appears to have a lot of information.  I mean, there are color coded scales, 1-10 scores, really useful stuff!  Except, it’s not.  In fact, I think this website probably does more harm than good for the following reasons:
1) It’s based on minimal data.  When you don’t have “good” data for any ingredient in a product except water, then you don’t have good enough data to go making health concern claims.
2) The scales have no actual value.  There’s no indication as to what the actual level of risk is.  Is a little of a hazardous substance better than a lot of a moderate substance?  Who the hell knows.
3) It’s something that can easily be passed around on the Internet among people who think that there’s something useful here.

You sir, are a 6. You are more dangerous than a 5. Or a Camel Light. Who knows.

Again, I understand people want healthy kids.  I want my kids to be healthy to when they’re born and for the rest of their lives.  You want to know how to keep your kids healthy?  Stop looking at the EWG site and keep your kids away from smoke, make sure they get exercise, don’t let them drink soda, expose them to a little dirt, give them strong social supports and love them.  Don’t let some stupid website take advantage of your fears.  Not buying Johnson & Johnson isn’t going to prevent your kid from getting cancer.  But educating them about the dangers of smoking will probably help.

2 responses

  1. Donna Hoffman

    However, there is a book by a reputable epidemiologist entitled “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” by Devra Davis that does report reputable research on cancer-causing chemicals that contaminate some cosmetics, detergents, shampoo, etc. I recommend the book. Best in my mind is to avoid exposing your body to chemicals as much as possible. What happened to good old fashioned SOAP?

    February 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    • Chris

      I definitely agree that there are some bad products out there. I don’t use soap simply because I dries out my skin and there are some products like AHA that help my skin. There is a company called LUSH which makes great natural cosmetics, but they are a little pricey.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

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