I find eating clean and avoiding food based toxins to be pretty straightforward. In general, if it’s packaged or there are ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not healthy. There are exceptions to the rule, but in general, it’s simple enough.
Eat real food.
Shopping for household, cleaning and beauty products is much less straightforward. Herbs and essential oils are generally a safe and clean addition to a product but if their scientific names are used, they aren’t easy to pronounce and aren’t easily deciphered from their synthetic counterparts.
It can be very difficult to understand what the ingredients mean.
In America and in other western countries (but less so), there’s a mentality of something is safe until proven unsafe. However, the approach should be to assume something is unsafe unless proven safe. The FDA rules for labeling and use of chemicals makes it very clear that anything can be used UNTIL it’s proven unsafe. To me this is even more reason to live a clean, toxin-free life. Personally, I’d rather be safe than sorry, even if 90% of this stuff ends up being perfectly fine.
Luckily, there are a few apps that can help you make your shopping decisions. These apps offer the ability to look up how toxic a product or its ingredients are. All of the apps utilize published scientific literature to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government.
They should be used a guide and not an end all be all, but they can help put you in the right direction. You may get different ratings for the same products with different apps. This is why I typically recommend cross referencing an item if you have any concerns. They also have different algorithms for their decisions and don’t always look at the same factors.
There are a few key flaws to be aware of:
- Some products are not listed, or sometimes only a few versions of a brand are listed.
- Brands that fully disclose ingredients are compared with brands that are not disclosing all of their ingredients. The FDA leaves it up to companies to ensure they are properly labeling. In addition, some compounds have more data available than others. An item may score really well because it has no known toxic compounds.. when in reality, it may have one… research simply hasn’t proven it yet.
- Scores are based on ingredients being present but there’s a difference between an ingredient being 1st on a list and last on a list in terms of their quantity in a product. Quantity matters. In addition, sometimes 2 ingredients will formulate synergistic toxicity where they are more harmful in the presence of each other.
- Finally, a few of the apps evaluate food products. For instance, Good Guide evaluates food products based on a nutritional evaluation of a product’s ingredients. I haven’t extensively explored this portion of their app, but from what I have explored they base this on government guidelines and I wouldn’t suggest using this feature. For instance, I saw a perfect score for a processed box of Chex cereal and decided to stop looking. Just focus on beauty and household products!
The 3 main apps are Good Guide, EWG Healthy Living and Think Dirty.
Good guide has rated over 75,000 household, food, and beauty products. These products are ranked by health, environmental, and social factors. You can search by product name or scan the UPC code for an instant look.
They rank health, environment, and social separately which is unique. This is where good guide excels. For instance, palm oil is generally safe but perhaps that palm oil is contributing to deforestation in Indonesia, if so, I’d like to know. I find social and environmental factors equally as important in my decision making process.
EWG Healthy Living App (previously Skin Deep)
The EWG Healthy Living app from the Environmental Working Group rates over 120,000 food and personal care products. You can search by ingredient, brand, product name or simply scan the barcode on your phone.
EWG also lists a data availability rating so you can tell if their ratings are based on a lot of sound scientific research or perhaps just one or two studies.
You may be familiar with EWG from their EWG Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists. EWG is a reputable organization that is leading in their industry.
Think Dirty App
The Think Dirty app is another way to learn about toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products. You simply scan a UPC much like the other apps.
They base their rankings of a given product on the potential health impacts of the published ingredients. Ingredients are evaluated for carcinogenicity, development and reproductive toxicity, and allergenicity and immunotoxicity.
There are a few flaws to this app to be aware of. One downside is the way they rate allergenicity. What is an allergy to one person may be perfectly fine for another person. They also rate against companies due to potential impurities, even though some companies may have received a certificate proving their ingredients are not contaminated.
I think all of the apps do a good a job in aiding consumers to make smart choices and buy safer products. Their differences are minor, so to some it may simply be a matter of preference. The main thing I want to make sure you take from this is that you need to draw your own conclusions. These apps are a tool and a resource to guide you, but don’t take the information as fact. There are many flaws in the process.
I’m strongly committed to buying products that are clean and free of toxic ingredients. I’m also committed to buying products that are created in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.