Consumer News

'Think Dirty' App Scans Cosmetics For Carcinogens, Reproductive Toxins, And Allergens Using Your Smartphone

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The Think Dirty app unveils the harmful chemicals hiding in your cosmetics. Gre Ceres, CC BY 2.0

Looking to order food, get directions, or find a date? There’s an app for that. There’s an app for almost anything you could possibly need. And now, there’s even an app to tell you what toxins are in your makeup.

It’s called Think Dirty, and it’s an app that will tell consumers if there are any potential carcinogens in their cosmetics and personal care products.

Founder and CEO Lily Tse came up with this idea after her own personal tragedy. “Due to family history of cancer, I decided to research into the many causes behind breast cancer, including ‘toxic’ ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products,” she said on her company website.

The app works by scanning the barcodes of cosmetic products that are available in stores; the database currently consists of 11,000 products using the information from The National Library of Medicine's Hazardous Substances Data Bank, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and the David Suzuki Foundation, which is a Canadian environmental group.

Each product is then given a “dirty meter” rating from zero to 10. Products are rated using three different categories: carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergies and immunotoxicities. Products that are not in the database can be submitted to the app.

Last month, the Think Dirty team partnered up with the Breast Cancer Fund to donate to breast cancer research — one dollar for every product scanned.

Unlike pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care products are not strictly regulated. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “In general, except for color additives and those ingredients that are prohibited or restricted by regulation, a manufacturer may use any ingredient in the formulation of a cosmetic.” This means that, unless there is a clear danger or mislabeling of a product, cosmetic companies do not have any obligations to conduct long-term testing. 

Tse said that many products are labeled all natural and organic, but still contain many harmful ingredients. “There was also no real tool out there for consumers to find information easily. With my background in design and marketing,” she said. “I wanted to develop and create something not only for myself but for others as well, and that’s how Think Dirty was founded.”

The Canadian app hopes to shed more light on the products that consumers are using. "It’s a consumer revolution for safer cosmetics by learning one ingredient at a time, changing to cleaner options, one product at a time,” said Tse.

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