I didn’t think that this was possible, but reading Lisa Lise’s blog the other day managed to lower 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 would have conceded 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 disruptor, 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.  This is the kind of error that 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 polyethene 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 talking about.  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 infinity.

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.


From the UK, Colin Sanders has been a formulator of cosmetic and topical pharmaceuticals for 27 years. Over that time he has formulated nearly every category of product including shampoos, cosmetic skin creams, pharmaceutical skin creams, face masks, lip balms and so on. He has been an active member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists since 1985 and in 1999 organised the first of the Formulate shows. His degree is in environmental science and he continues to take a keen interest in the impact of human activities on the planet. He regards himself as an environmental activist and all round green. When not in the lab, he writes a blog, Colin’s Beauty Pages with the intention of entertaining and hopefully informing users of cosmetic and personal care products with some insider insights, a bit of science and his own opinions.

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