Using Technology to Empower the Consumer in Beauty and Fashion Purchases by Gia Machlin, November 20 2013, 0 Comments

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I was so excited to see that the Environmental Working Group has come out with an iPhone (and Android) app for its Skin Deep database. For those of you who may not be familiar with Skin Deep, it is an amazing resource to determine the toxicity/hazard level of cosmetics, skin care, and other personal care products you may be using. At EcoPlum, we use it as a screening tool for our product selection in our online boutique, and our beauty editor Chryso uses it as part of all her Eco Friendly Beauty Buys reviews in our EcoLiving Ideas online publication. First a little background: did you know cosmetics are underregulated, and can be made of chemicals that have not been thoroughly tested? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot require safety tests or recall harmful products. This video from Annie Leonard gives a very good overview of the problem with cosmetics today. A couple of weeks ago, I was a panelist at an event called Fashion Evolution: Consumer Power hosted by Ampleen. The topic was sustainable fashion and how to empower consumers with the knowledge and information they need to make conscious choices about their fashion purchases. We talked about the power of the consumer in driving clothing and beauty companies to source and manufacture their products sustainability. I noted that we have not reached the tipping point with consumers when it comes to fashion/beauty. While people are demanding more healthy and sustainable choices when it comes to food and dining, consumers have been slow to push the fashion and beauty companies towards sustainability. Well this new app is a great tool to do just that! Armed with my Skin Deep app, I took a walk to Duane Reade (New York's Walgreens brand) and started scanning away. I found out the following information about the Nature's Gate shampoo, a brand we sometimes use, right there on the spot:

  • Hazard score is 4 out of 10 - which represents a Moderate hazard - not bad (although not great for a product that advertises itself as "Natural" and is sold at a premium at Whole Foods)
  • Ranks LOW for Cancer as a Health Concern - good!
  • Ranks LOW for Reprotoxicity as a Health Concern - good!
  • Ranks HIGH for Allergy concerns and tells me which ingredients may have use restrictions - thankfully not an issue for our family.
It also shows me which specific ingredients are ranked LOW, MEDIUM and HIGH hazard for the product so I know where the overall score of 4 came from. If I click on the RED/High hazard filter, I see that "Fragrance" is an ingredient and contributes a whopping 8 to the overall score. If I click on the YELLOW/Moderate hazard filter, I see two more ingredients in this category. And when I click on the GREEN/Low hazard filter I see a list of 24 ingredients that are all considered safe and of low risk to my health. I just found out all of that by scanning the bar code while I shopped. Pretty powerful information. I was thrilled to find out that the Old Spice body wash my teenage son uses was not as toxic as I thought, with a score of 4, but disappointed to see that his Axe Shampoo and Conditioner, while holding a decent overall score of 5, contained something called DMDM Hydantoin (Formaldehyde Releaser) with an individual hazard score of 8. (I've had a hard time convincing him to use the products I use - go figure). I continued to scan products randomly just to test out the app. A few products did not register through the bar code scan but I was able to type in the name of the product and still get all the Skin Deep database information on it. Not surprisingly, none of the products I scanned/entered had a score below 4 (this was your everyday drugstore and not a health foods store), and the highest overall score I received was 7 (on Revlon Eterna Moisture Cream and Gold Bond Medicated Body Lotion). I strongly urge you all to get this free app that is so useful in helping you make smart choices while you shop. Another great app I have used is called Buycott. It uses the similar scanning technology to look up products in their database of companies. In this case, it gives you information about the Corporate Social Responsibility track record of the company. You select the "campaigns" that are important to you, for example The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh or Avoiding Sweatshop and Child Labor. Then when you scan the product/ bar code or enter the name, it tells you whether you should support or avoid the company based on their track record in this particular area. So, for Sweatshop and Child Labor Issues, I'm told to avoid the Gap, Nike and Walmart, but to support American Apparel and New Balance. Of course there are so many other great resources to research companies and products, like CSRHUB, Climate Counts, GoodGuide, and good ol' Consumer Reports' Greener Choices, so please, USE THIS INFORMATION BEFORE YOU BUY! The more we know, the more we can steer clear of products that contain harmful toxins, and eventually the companies making this stuff will get the message. If we don't buy clothing from companies that use sweatshop and child labor, the companies will have to change their ways. We HAVE the POWER and need to USE IT. If we continue to send the message that we don't care, and will buy whatever garbage is cheapest and most convenient and best advertised, then we only have ourselves to blame.