See also Kit’s Saturday Art coverage of Toxic Forest on MyFDL.

Lily Tse at SXSW Eco

After her mother’s second bout with breast cancer, Lily Tse developed Think Dirty to help consumers make better choices.

If you buy bath or body products, whether shampoo, lotion, or makeup, you know the stores are full of “natural” products which are anything but natural by sany sane person’s definition. Taking a chemical produced solely in a laboratory, based on petrochemicals, or even known to have toxic elements and then mixing it with botanical essences and herbal fragrances is not what most people consider natural.

Her mother’s second bout with breast cancer inspired Lily Tse to research the dangerous chemicals in many everyday body products. She also watched “Story of Cosmetics,” a short film by Annie Leonard. After her mother’s recovery, she began development of Think Dirty to help consumers take better control of their purchases and their health.

If you’ve looked at the ingredients of shampoos and other products, they are full of unpronounceable and indecipherable chemicals. Even worse, a host of chemicals can hide behind vague sounding names like “fragrance” or “perfume.” Tse told me that if you visit Proctor & Gamble’s consumer safety website, you can find a 25 page .pdf file listing the hundreds of chemicals which might be represented by “fragrance.” In reality, I couldn’t even get that far — I tried to find this document and got frustrated following links which justified the company’s use of known troublemakers like parabens and pthalates.

Think Dirty simplifies all this. A consumer simply scans the barcode of a product in the store. The app immediately gives the user a product rating from (clean) to 10 (dirty). Products with vague ingredients like “fragrance” are rated dirty, and piling herbal essences or botanicals on top of cancer-causing ingredients has no beneficial effect on rating. Once the user sees the initial rating, they can then easily drill down to see what each ingredient really means and how safe it might be to use. Products without ratings can be submitted to the Think Dirty team for review. “We’re a small team,” but Lily told me they would review each submission they received even if the process might be slow. The database already contains over 12,000 common products.

Since the app looks only at ingredients, it doesn’t give any weight to companies that sell toxic products but support greenwashing or pinkwashing efforts like the pink ribbon campaign. In fact, the Think Dirty booth had a notable conversation starter — a “Fuck Pink Ribbons” t-shirt for sale. Think Dirty supports the Breast Cancer Fund, which seeks to eliminate the environmental causes that contribute to cancer. For every product scanned during October, they will donate $1 to the fund.

Think Dirty is free, but only available on iOS right now. Tse felt that women are more likely to use iPhones but intends to expand into the Android market soon.

Photo by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved.