If you take the Skin Deep Database seriously, read this!


I didn’t think that this was possible.  Reading Lisa Lise’s blog the other day lowered my opinion of the Skin Deep database.  Given I that I regard it as highly misleading and often wrong, this is quite an achievement.  But even I thought that the materials that they have set up their database to malign do actually exist.  I gave them too much credit.

Polyparaben, which the Environmental Working Group has strong concerns over, including emerging concerns that it is an endocrine disrupter, has never been used in cosmetics. 

There is no such thing.  

As far as I can tell, although it would in principle be possible to polymerise some kind of paraben to produce a material that could be described as polyparaben, nobody has ever actually done so.

Lisa Lise suggests that somebody somewhere has misread propylparaben.  This seems highly likely.  It’s the kind of error a non-scientist is quite likely to make.  It would be like transcribing words in a language you don’t speak. You don’t have any feel for its meaning so you don’t see its pattern.  Propyl and poly may seem similar enough if you aren’t used to chemical names.

But to someone with a technical background you recognise the meaning straight away.  Polyparaben would instantly suggest a polymer of a paraben, which would have properties quite different to those of a simple paraben. 

A familiar example is polythene. Polythene is a polymer of ethene.  Ethene is a flammable gas and polythene, well you know what polythene is.  To a scientist the name gives a clue as to what the material actually is – and in this case isn’t even very advanced science either.

Clearly the assessments are carried out by somebody with little idea of what they are doing.  Anyone can make a mistake, but this particular mistake would only have been made by someone completely ignorant about basic science.

I am not sure how they arrived at a data gap of 94%.  Presumably as the material doesn’t exist the data gap ought to be infinite.

But the sloppiness doesn’t end with the science.  A couple of products are also referenced that are supposed to contain this non-existent material.  If I were the manufacturers I would get onto the Environmental Working Group to ask for a correction.  Good luck with that.

Here is the link to Lisa Lise’s original post.  Lisa is based in Denmark and has developed her own range of products.  Thanks again to her for spotting this.


At the time of writing the entry on Polyparaben was still on the Skin Deep database.  I imagine that they will quickly pick up on this post and remove it, but here it is for now.


7 thoughts on “If you take the Skin Deep Database seriously, read this!”

  1. Colin – great post, nicely exposing another of the many shortcomings of Skin Deep. I also have seen “polyparaben” referred to in a discussion – I did opint out at the time that it was probably a misprint, and came to the same conclusion as you – a lack of scientific knowledge lay behind it!

    Needless to say, I have also added my observation to Lise’s blog!

  2. “I am not sure how they arrived at a data gap of 94%. Presumably as the material doesn’t exist the data gap ought to be infinity.”


    (I actually did laugh out loud).

    I once wrote to the EWG, upon discovering that whilst all of their paraben listings were red or orange and listed as toxic, their listing for Phenonip (which, as you probably know, is a blend of parabens and other preservatives) had received a safety rating of zero – and the green light. Unsurprisingly, I received no response. As far as I’m aware, this discrepancy still exists.

    These guys really are dangerous and irresponsible.

  3. I used to read skindeep but I stopped. they consider almost everything as toxic. How was I supposed to use anything? And some of those ranked “safe” are not functionally good.

  4. Thanks for that Mark. The EWG never fail to amuse and surprise! I thought if there was one element that everybody knew was dangerous it was mercury.

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