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    Checking Food & Skin Care Ingredients for Safety? There’s an App for That

    by Chet Van Wert

    A trip to the supermarket can get pretty confusing when you’re trying to buy consciously. You know the choices you make will affect your family’s health and safety. You also know that there is an environmental impact of each product you support with your shopping dollars.

    But what you don’t know is how to evaluate the thousands of choices the average supermarket has to offer. You can read the ingredients, but what is propylparaben anyway, and is it something to worry about? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has counted over 10,000 unique chemical ingredients in personal care products on the market, “some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, toxic to the reproductive system or known to disrupt the endocrine system.” Food products are a little more regulated, but you can’t assume that something is safe just because it’s on the shelf.

    Good news: There’s an app for that, and its incredibly easy to use.

    EWG Healthy Living App

    The Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) has spent years developing databases that now contain tens of thousands of ingredients used in food and personal care products. These databases connect two critical pieces of information: (1) specific branded food and personal care products that contain each ingredient, and (2) what scientific studies tell us about the safety of each ingredient.

    By connecting these two sets of information, EWG compiles a safety rating for over 100,000 brand-name food and personal care products. You can easily check your favorite products online using EWG’s  Skin Deep Database for personal care products or its  Food Scores database.

    These two databases are combined in EWG’s Healthy Living App, which you can download to your smartphone from either the Android or the Apple app stores. Take it with you to the store, scan the barcode of any product, and you’ll get its score. Stick with products that score 0, 1,  2, or 3 – at the safe end of EWG’s range.

    Healthy Living

    Think Dirty: Another Great App

    Since Healthy Living doesn’t cover all products on the market, it’s a good idea to download a couple of similar apps as back-ups.

    “Think Dirty” is also available for either iPhone or Android-based phones from your app store. Like Healthy Living, you can take it to the store and scan the barcodes of cosmetics and personal care products. It identifies ingredients that are harmful, and rates how harmful they are. Created by two non-profits, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Breast Cancer Fund, Think Dirty has gotten rave reviews from an impressive array of reliable media.

    Think Dirty

    GoodGuide App

    The GoodGuide app will also screen the products you buy in the supermarket or drug store. Good Guide is a long-running project that has so far rated 250,000 products on environmental, health, and social responsibility factors. Like the other apps, it allows you to scan the barcode on any product package and get Good Guide’s rating on health, environmental, and social factors. It also lets you find alternative products with better ratings.


    One thing to remember: The higher the numerical rating on GoodGuide, the safer the product – this is the opposite of ratings on Healthy Living and Think Dirty, where lower numerical ratings are better.

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