Photo: The Hollywood Heels
As a teenager of the late ‘90s, there wasn’t really a lot of thought put into where something came from or what it could mean for my health. I used any old cleaning supplies without opening the window first, cooked on Teflon pans, and slathered margarine on everything like it was my job. These were all modern miracles, so why would you need to question what actually goes into making the damn things?
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade trying to atone for those sins against my body, and an app has helped me do a lot of the heavy lifting.
ThinkDirty (currently for iOS and in beta for Android, free) lets you scan barcodes of your favorite household goods and beauty products. It then pulls from a database of more than 3,200 brands and 350,000 products, using publicly available data from nonprofit and government reports. It’s also partnered with San Francisco nonprofit Breast Cancer Fund.
You then get a number scale (one is the best, least-toxic and ten = makes your skin crawl and gives you a massive case of hypochondria).
Margie Kelly, who works with the national coalition Safe Cosmetics, says that we’re currently living in the “Wild West” of household and beauty products. “There’s no premarket testing to make sure the product is safe for use before it’s sold to you,” she told CBS News last year.
When I took the app to scan objects in my bathroom, I thought I knew what would be toxic (my Scrubbing Bubbles toilet bowl cleaner) and what wouldn’t (my Mrs. Meyers hand soap).
True, the former was a 9. But I was also shocked that my seemingly healthy soap was a “9” on the scale because of the amount of fragrance it had, a potential irritant. The app’s other big realm is beauty.
A lot of my own beauty products still weren’t in the database (sadly) but I made a few disheartening discoveries. My beloved Kiehl’s Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner registered an “8” because it contains urea, a preservative and anti-microbial that has been linked to eczema.
But don’t let that get you down—the app also shows you dozens of other similar products that have a lower toxicity index.
While kind of depressing (so many products are bad, you guys!) the app is also a powerful tool to help you make informed decisions.
I’ve used the app for the last few weeks when I’m buying cleaning products or beauty goods and got turned onto a lot of niche brands like Sapadilla and Biokleen. And while it does kind of make my skin crawl, I feel better about knowing what’s in the other products I have. Now, if only this app could remedy all that margarine I ate in the ‘90s.