be a critical researcher: a follow up post on "going nuts over soap"

Over the holidays, I've been working on a research paper regarding toxic chemicals in household products.  Based on some of the research and analysis I've done, I've decided to publish a follow up post to my previous "going nuts over soap". 

The database I focused on in my post is called "Think Dirty", a mobile app you use on your smart phone to scan the barcode of the product in question, and it spits out a toxicity level based on various criteria.  I've recently learned that there are two other similar databases available and it's become clear that all three databases use different criteria in assessing toxicity levels of products.  Below is a compare/contrast of what I've found regarding the following three databases: Environmental Working Group'sSkin Deep Cosmetics Database, the Good Guide, and Think Dirty.  I hope you will find it helpful.

Skin Deep’s rating criteria is a based on a dual rating system.  First, a hazard rating, which considers known and suspected hazards associated with ingredients and products and implies a level of ‘concern’.  A rating of 0-2 indicates a low hazard score, 3-6 moderate, and 7-10 high.  The second system is the data availability rating, which is meant to reflect how much is known (or not known) about an ingredient.  In cases where data is limited on a product and its ingredients, it will indicate so.

Good Guide has recently (2011) made changes to their product ratings, and now uses a ‘transparency rating’ system.  Their system provides an overall rating taking into consideration health concerns as well as environmental and social impacts of the products and the companies that manufacture them.  Similar to the Skin Deep site, it uses a rating scale of 1-10, 10 being no concern, and 0 being a high concern.  

The “Think Dirty” App is relatively new (2013) and also uses a scale: 0-2 being no negative health impact, 3-6 moderate negative long-term health effects, and 7-10 potentially serious negative long-term health effects.  Interestingly, Think Dirty does not take into consideration the environmental and social responsibility of a product’s manufacturer.  Rather, their system only considers the potential impact on an individual’s health. 

As I began the research for my paper, I quickly noticed that there were other notable differences between each of databases, not just in their rating systems, but also in the accuracy and availability of product information.  For example, when I looked up the above-noted Aveda product “Botanical Kinetics Purifying Gel Cleanser” and compared the ingredients on my physical products to those listed on the Think Dirty App, it showed ingredients that are not listed on the physical product and gave it toxicity rating of 10 (the highest possible rating).  

The Good Guide database ingredients list was more accurate, but still appears to be out of date.  It gave the cleanser a product a rating of 5.5 (a moderate level).  Given that these two databases use a different methodology, it is not surprising that the ratings are different; however, it’s difficult to know for sure when the ingredients are not accurate on either site.  Interestingly, on the Good Guide’s ingredients listing, it notes to ‘check the package for the most up to date ingredients’.  

I've since emailed Think Dirty and asked them to update their ingredient listing for three Aveda products, given that it's very possible that an up to date ingredients list will result in a lower toxicity rating.This is a very good reminder to look closely and carefully at more than one source.  It’s also a good reminder that ‘one answer is not always best’.  Is it important to take into consideration what product’s manufacturers are doing (or not doing) for the environment?  Personally, I think so.  However, it’s also equally important to know what level of risk the products we use pose to our long-term health.  It is also important to rely on the most accurate and up to date product information.  With the recent increase in social interest and concern over the use of toxic chemicals, many companies are making efforts to change their product ingredients and seek out alternatives, resulting in changes in product ingredients from time to time.  Aveda is actually one such company who has very recently stopped manufacturing products with parabens.  

Perhaps the best we can do is to educate ourselves on each of the ingredients, and make an informed decision balancing the potential health effects as well as the impact on the environment. 

be a critical thinker,

"Be aware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance." (George Bernard Shaw)