Post updated June 2016
So, my dear readers, if you’ve read my previous blogs, especially my recent one regarding healthier shampoo, you know that I’ve become quite the Label Reader Extraordinaire. It’s a little bit of a geeky talent, but I actually take a strange pride in being able to look at a product label and point out the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
In my shampoo blog, I provided a list of 17 chemicals to avoid in personal/beauty products, and I know you all studied it intensely, right? Right? Hello? *crickets chirping* Don’t hate me, I’m totally kidding – I understand that getting this in-depth is not on everyone’s to-do list.
As much as I love sharing through my blogs what I’m learning, I want to empower my readers to make their own good choices. “Teach a man to fish,” right? Well, I’ve got really great news, friends. Your smartphone just learned a couple cool new tricks, ones that can be a huge help when you’re trying to choose healthier products for yourself and your family.
Coming from two really great consumer health websites (Environmental Working Group and Good Guide) are three super-handy, easy-to-use apps. All are available for free download to Android and Apple devices.
Dirty Dozen App, Environmental Working Group
This app is quite literally as simple as it gets. The home screen has links to it all: the Clean Fifteen list, Dirty Dozen list, the Full List, and FAQs.
If you’re new to buying organic (and why organic matters, especially in terms of produce), you may never have heard of the Clean Fifteen or Dirty Dozen before. Basically, every conventional piece of produce is treated with chemical pesticides during the growing process. Some items receive higher quantities of any one pesticide and/or greater numbers of different pesticides applied to that one item. Those that are the worst are your Dirty Dozen, which means that those are the products you especially want to look toward buying organic. Those that score the best, the Clean Fifteen, are ones generally lowest in pesticide residue, so they are safe(r) to buy conventional instead of springing for organic.
Check out the Full List on the app to see a list of 48 common produce items ranked in order from dirtiest (#1) to cleanest (#48).
You may be asking, okay, how do they determine this? In the FAQs, they explain everything, so I won’t go into great detail here, but in general, they are doing their testing after a typical wash that a consumer would do and after peeling an item (if applicable). So, yes, the score for the banana, for example, is a score for a peeled banana. Surprising, yes?
Healthy Living App, Environmental Working Group
Previously called the SkinDeep app, this app is a great companion to the Skin Deep database on EWG’s website, allowing you to search their database on-the-go to get a product’s overall health score (1 – 10) and possible ingredient concerns. You can search by barcode scanning or typing a product name, though it seems their barcode database still has some catching up to do. Products are in there, but often won’t come up by scan, and instead can be found by typing it in search.
For example, here is what you can find by searching a product. In this instance, let’s use my Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser:
As you can see in the left panel, first you get a product summary, indicating an overall score of 3 (lower is better) and overall level of data known about its ingredients. Below is a quick visual summary of its risks in terms of Allergy Concern, Cancer Concern, and Developmental (Reproductive) Concern. (This product scores low except for in the Allergy category due to it containing Fragrance.)
The middle and right panels show what it looks like to scroll down the app’s page to further examine the individual ingredients and their safety scores. Underneath each ingredient’s score, you’ll see text telling you how much data is known by EWG about that particular chemical (as you can see, here we’ve got several “Limited”, two “Fair”, and one “Good”, “Robust”, and “None” each). Because chemicals companies are constantly churning out new ingredients, there are many chemicals we know little or nothing about scientifically – EWG recommends buying products with as many ingredients carrying “Fair” data levels (or better) as possible.
Last but not least, at the very bottom, you’ll see a final summary of the findings.
GoodGuide app, GoodGuide
This app is extremely similar to the Healthy Living one above, though produced by GoodGuide as a companion to their own website database. It offers the same type of searchable database to locate a product and view its safety scores, whether by scanning a barcode or typing the product name. I will say, however, that this app seems to be further along in tying its database to the barcodes – the majority of products I test-scanned did come up successfully by scanning.
One major difference is that GoodGuide (the website and app) goes beyond just a product’s health score, and also provides scores for Environment and Society. The product’s overall score (0 – 10) is a reflection of all three individual scores, as you can see below.
For my purposes, I primarily look at the Health score, but that’s not to say that the other scores don’t matter to me. It’s beneficial for all of us to vote with our dollars and support companies that are all-around responsible as much as we can.
Here once again, I’ll use my Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser to show you how this app will asses a product:
As you can see above, the format is quite similar to the Healthy Living app, and shows us the product’s Overall Rating and corresponding individual scores. [One major difference to note is that higher is better here on GoodGuide, whereas on Healthy Living, lower scores are better.] For more information about the individual scores, you can click “+ Behind the Rating”. To access the ingredients list that gives it the 6.0 Health score, you click ” + Ingredients”, which populates the info shown in the right-side panel above. I really like this, because all the ingredients are in one unified list, with no toggling back and forth. All ingredients receive an icon to tell you what the scoop is. My only gripe here is why red = high, deep orange = medium, lighter orange = low. Couldn’t we just have stuck with red, yellow, green? Or at least have chosen colors that are very visually different? But, that’s just a small nit-picky thing. It still conveys what we need to know!
That’s it! Pretty cool, right? I was definitely psyched to have this information at my fingertips, available so streamlined and easy.
Before I wrap this up, I want to mention that I choose to keep both product rating apps on my phone, and here’s why: they are not always in agreement! In this particular case, you can see that Healthy Living listed sodium benzoate and cocomidopropyl betaine as yellows (3 and 4, respectively), effectively calling them a medium concern, whereas GoodGuide listed those two as Low Concern.
Why? Well, it’s very possible that one database has more info on these chemicals than the other. My guess is that Healthy Living has more data, causing the medium ranking. For the most part, it seems that EWG is a lot less forgiving, so the trend I’ve seen is that products tend to score better with GoodGuide than with Healthy Living. It’s not always that way, but often is. But you know what? I kind of like that. I find it beneficial having two scientific databases to consult, because it’s even more validation when both databases report certain chemicals as dangerous.
In circumstances like this, I’ll be honest, my own personal preference is to go with Healthy Living’s assessment of those two as medium concern. Based on my own research, seeing many different opinions of those chemicals’ safety, I don’t think I would place them as Low Concern, as GoodGuide does. They’re two chemicals I prefer to avoid when I can, though as you can see, I’m still currently using this face wash and haven’t trashed it. That doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily okay with them being there, just that for now I’ll keep using it up, but in the future I’m headed toward other cleaner face washes that don’t contain them. (Hint hint: I have one on deck I’m really excited for, which will enter my test phase as soon as I run out of Neutrogena! Of course, I’ll be blogging my findings!)
So, there you have it! Hope you enjoy using these and playing with your app’s scanner! Wishing you healthier, happier days!