When we heard last week that cosmetics brand Lime Crime was under fire from the United States Food and Drug Administration for having unapproved ingredients in one of its edgy colored lipsticks, we wondered what other danger might be lurking in our makeup bags. One way to find dangerous items in your beauty products is by using the Think Dirty app, which makes it easy to identify those scary additives in the stuff you use every day.
News flash: Many drugstore finds have potentially dangerous ingredients in them. The FDA has infamously lax laws when it comes to health and beauty products (which makes you seriously wonder about Lime Crime). In the U.S., only 10 chemicals are banned in cosmetics - compared to the 1,300 forbidden by the European Union Health Commission. That said, we aren't about to Wiki every ingredient in our favorite lipstick. Instead, we can scan the barcodes, and the app will score how dangerous each product is, based on the carcinogenicity (containment of cancer-causing agents), developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergenicity and immunotoxicity.
But based on what - mumbo jumbo? Nope. Straight science. Think Dirty's advisory board contains experts in medicine, biochemistry, biology, physiology, environmental toxicology, environmental health and safety, and chemical engineering fields, who evaluate each ingredient found in household beauty items.
We gave the app a whirl and searched a few of the products we use every day, and it turns out that fragrance was the No. 1 offender in our shower caddies. Beauty companies aren't required to list which chemicals compose the perfume, so the word "fragrance" leads little insight to any of the 3,060 potentially harmful chemicals that could lurk inside.
Another scary thought: There are no regulations to labeling health and beauty care products "natural" or "organic," so those words essentially mean zilch on packaging. We searched "Herbal Essences Naked conditioner" currently in our showers, and it received the same dangerous rating of 9 as other Herbal Essences hair products (on a scale of 0–10, 10 being the most toxic).
But hold up: Are no-brainers like Herbal Essences and Dove deodorant - which everyone has used at some point in their lifetime - really bad for you? Think Dirty Founder & CEO Lily Tse said that her app has a formula for calculating the toxicity of products that contain fragrance:
"In most cases, a rated 9 ingredient is likely synthetic fragrance. Due to the trade secret protection, companies are not obligated to disclose fragrance ingredient as per FDA regulation. Therefore, it's hard to pinpoint which of the 3,060 fragrance ingredients are for users. Following the EU precautionary principle, we rated such ingredient as 9. Phthalates in fragrance is also a concern as being biocummalative as explained in this article by Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The fragrance rating exception will only be made if there's clear company policy stated public stating 1) they don't contain phthalates with their testing 2) they only use non-synthetic fragrance."
Many companies don't have policies stating these two conditions, and therefore, many commonplace - and seemingly harmless - products by companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever rack up dangerous scores. "The safety and well-being of those who use our products is always our first priority," a Unilever rep told Cambio. Its website states that all synthetic and natural fragrances meet International Fragrance Association standards.
We love feeling like we are making smart purchases at the store, and this app will definitely inspire us to be more careful when shopping around for beauty products. But until that ultra vague "fragrance" category is explained more on the app and companies are more straightforward with ingredient lists, we're left in the dark.