How many of your personal care products contain toxic chemicals? Here’s a hint: it’s probably more than you think. Now you can easily find out with a free app called “Think Dirty” that’s available on the App Store and at their site. Think Dirty has access to growing database of over 100,000 products. Each product is given a rating on the app’s “Dirty Meter.” The “cleanest” products are given a 0 and the “dirtiest” (or most toxic) products are given a 10. Once you download the Think Dirty app to your smartphone, you can find a product’s rating by scanning its barcode or just typing its name.
For the record, I don’t work for Think Dirty and there are no product endorsements in this post. That means you can trust me: you need this app ASAP. Yes, it has taught me a lot about the chemicals in my make-up. But also, it’s super fun to scan barcodes with your phone. (I’m not the only one who thinks that, right? …Guys?)
Now, it may be a little alarming to learn about all the chemicals in your make-up, but Think Dirty can recommend safer alternatives. It also helps you create lists, so you can keep one list of your favorite “clean” products and another list of…oh, I don’t know…the products you’re afraid might kill you. Yeah, now that I think about it, it seems especially important to keep track of that second list.
Since I started using Think Dirty, I’ve found that most of my own products have very high toxicity ratings. It turns out my cleanser, toothpaste, and even my hand soap are all “dirty.” I was actually relieved to learn that my BareMinerals foundation (i.e. the stuff I apply directly to my face on a daily basis) is only a 6 for its potential allergens and immunotoxins. Think Dirty recommends that you stick to products in the 0-3 range.
Here are a few popular products that are now on my dirt list, along with their ratings as of May 5, 2014. (The ratings sometimes change as Think Dirty collects more information.)
As far as I can tell, a product’s toxicity has nothing to do with its price tag. St. Ives Apricot Scrub from the drugstore and Fekkai shampoo from Sephora are both 10’s, according to Think Dirty. Words like “natural” or “organic” on the packaging don’t mean much either. I mean, mercury is 100% natural and it’s even kind of pretty, but I wouldn’t recommend it for creating a smokey eye.
I know what you’re thinking: you can just read the ingredients on a label without the help of an app, but Think Dirty is so much faster and so much smarter. Plus, some toxic ingredients might be listed under names you don’t recognize (and, for that matter, probably can’t pronounce). Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? It’s a chemical preservative that releases formaldehyde over time, and it’s in many bath products like body washes and lotions. Just don’t ask me to read it out loud.
Here’s something else you won’t learn from a label: the FDA has found that most (if not all) lipsticks contain at least trace amounts of lead. Yes, lead. Some brands (like Mabelline, L’Oreal, Covergirl, and Revlon) contain more than others. You can search for the lead content of your favorite shade here. If it makes you feel any better, no one’s putting lead in your lipstick on purpose; it’s an unintended contaminant. That’s why you won’t find it on the ingredients list. Thankfully, Think Dirty can flag lipsticks that are known to have especially high lead contents.
Click through to learn more about how your beauty products can kill you!
Another problem with relying on labels is that many products simply list words like “fragrance” or “parfum” as ingredients. Seriously, that’s like giving your vegan friend a hamburger and telling her it just has “food” in it. Once again, since Think Dirty uses data from scientific studies conducted by non-profit organizations and government agencies, it can fill in some of the blanks from the label.
If one of your favorite products has a high toxicity rating, don’t panic. ThinkDirty rates products with any unknown or controversial ingredients as “dirty” to warn consumers. Any product that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient automatically gets a high toxicity rating on Think Dirty. Similarly, my BareMinerals foundation is a 6 in part because contains mica, which is a common allergen and is sometimes contaminated with lead. Since I know I’m not allergic to mica, it should be safe for me to use as long as I don’t do anything crazy like inhale it or set it on fire.
It’s most important to stay away from cosmetics that are known to contain dangerous levels of carcinogens and toxins. In particular, you may want to avoid formaldehyde, lead, parabens, phthalates, and sulfates. Here are some important facts to keep in mind:
• Formaldehyde: it’s not just for preserving creepy dead animals anymore…it’s now in cosmetics as well! A formaldehyde-and-water solution called “formol” is a common ingredient in nail polishes. Other common cosmetic preservatives, like sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, slowly release formaldehyde over time. Formaldehyde was classified as a known human carcinogen in 2011.
• Lead is a neurotoxin that is not considered safe to ingest in any amount. The FDA has drawn some criticism for maintaining that the surprising amount of lead in lipstick is not a safety concern because lipstick is not intended for consumption. Maybe the FDA should research how much lipstick consumers ingest accidentally. In the meantime, don’t eat your lipstick, folks.
• Phthalates are a class of chemicals found in many cosmetics. High levels of phthalates have been found to cause birth defects and hormonal changes in lab animals. In humans, they may be a contributory cause of breast cancer. All humans are exposed to some phthalates from their environments and their diets. The fewer, the better. (That is, unless you want cancer…then more phthalates might be better, I guess.)
• Parabens are a class of compounds often used as a preservative in cosmetics. They may be a contributory cause of breast cancer development and hormonal changes, but the evidence is not yet definitive. Parabens can be absorbed through skin contact.
• Sulfates are found in many soaps, shampoos, and other foamy cleansing products. They can cause skin irritation. Also, sodium laureth sulfate sometimes contains trace amounts of 1,4-Dioxane, which is thought to be a carcinogen.
Think Dirty has partnered with the Breast Cancer Fund and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. It was founded by an awesome young entrepreneur named Lily Tse. Tse describes the app as a “consumer revolution” and she hopes that it will empower consumers with information so that they can “vote” with their dollars for cleaner products. Put that way, the concept is inspirational. Just imagine if there were similar apps for detecting animal ingredients in food or unethically sourced materials in clothing. Our smartphones may make it easier than ever to put our money where our morals are. Thanks for thinking forward, Think Dirty!