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Does Expensive Equal Safer When It Comes to K-beauty?

The EWG accessed more than 350 serums and essences to see how their ingredients stack up with its Skin Deep database.

The most expensive K-beauty serums and essences are not necessarily the ones with fewer ingredients that carry some potential hazards. That’s according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group that took a deep dive into safety of ingredients of more than 350 products in the booming category.

Sales of K-beauty products soared more than 300 percent over the past two years, according to Slice Intelligence. Many consumers flock to K-beauty associating it with clean ingredients.

“Consumers are lost in the marketing and under the impression that serums and essences are simplistic formulations made with natural ingredients. This is rarely the case though, and many of these formulations contain several synthetic and harmful ingredients so consumers need to be cautious with all product types,” said Catie Wiggy, director of product development and brand management for MyChelle Dermaceuticals, an EWG-verified brand.

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Indeed, the EWG’s assessment found some contain potentially hazardous ingredients, including parabens and phthalates. Almost a quarter of the products examined also contained fermented ingredients untested in personal care.

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EWG tapped its Skin Deep database, which rates products and their ingredients with a score of one for lowest hazard to 10 for highest, as a yardstick. “About 40 percent [of the serums and essences] fell in the green range, meaning they had a low hazard,” said Kali Rauhe, associate database analyst for EWG. Promising news is that fewer than 10 percent scored in the red zone.

A handful of those were popular high-end items with price tags over $100. “We often hear consumers assume that because something is more expensive it somehow has healthier ingredients. The highest in this [study] was $640 and the average price is $50 per fluid ounce,” said Nneka Leiba, director of Healthy Living Science for EWG. Cross-checking prices per fluid ounce with the levels of toxicity, EWG found price doesn’t always equate to more natural. In fact, some of the products the organization identified as the Best Bets, such as Red Earth Deep Dive Thirst Quenching Water Essence and The Ordinary’s Alpha Arbutin 2 percent+HA, retail for under $20.

“I think this shows you can make products that meet EWG standards, are safe and affordable. Price is not an indicator of product safety,” Leiba said.