38 Percent of Consumers Research What’s in Their Beauty Products – How Do You Measure Up?


In the past several years, there’s been a surge in companies whose sole purpose seems to be to educate consumers rather than to sell them on a product. Case in point: Earlier this year, the #GrabYourWallet organization called for the boycotting of 75 companies for supporting and/or carrying Trump products. LedBetter ranks consumers’ favorite brands by equality in leadership.

This phenomenon is no stranger to the personal care and beauty space, either. You’re likely cognizant of the fact that, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, consumers today are more connected and informed than ever before, with 38 percent of them researching beauty products at any given time. But did you know that 45 percent of beauty consumers will actually research a product online while in-store, rather than asking for an associate’s help?

As a result, we’ve seen an upswing in companies and apps like Think Dirty, EWG, Cosmetifique, and others, with more and more consumers seeking to understand what beauty companies are perhaps too reluctant to tell them: the truth about what’s in their products.

According to a personal care product use survey of more than 2,300 people conducted by EWG and a coalition of public interest and environmental health organizations, the average adult uses nine personal care products each day, with 126 unique chemical ingredients. The study goes on to show that 12.2 million adults – one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men – are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products.

Obviously, these numbers are no joke. So I decided to download one such app myself and put my own everyday makeup products to the test. As expected, my predominately drugstore brand makeup did not fare too well.

My makeup kit consists of a few simple items: mascara, liquid eyeliner, setting spray, BB cream, and lipstick. I use these on daily basis so I was curious to know how they would stack up against the Think Dirty app.
The app promises an unbiased comparison by allowing users to scan the barcodes of their makeup must-haves for easy-to-understand info on the product, its ingredients, and shop for cleaner options!
I start by scanning my Maybelline brand BB cream. The yellow indicator and score (a ‘5’) let’s me know it’s fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of product safety.
NYX’s matte finish setting spray has a similar score, with a neutral ‘5’ based on the possibility of allergens. I breath a sigh of relief – so far, so good. Right?
Perhaps my favorite product of the bunch – Benefits’ ‘They’re Real’ mascara – sounds off more than a few alarm bells. While the score is still neutral, the bar for potential carcinogens is much higher than I’d like.
More bad news: the liquid eyeliner scores an 8/10. Anything above a seven classifies as “dirty” on the app.
My travel-sized tube of Too Faced’s melted lipstick fares about as well as the majority of my makeup kit. A 5/10. 
While I was happy that my makeup kit was an overall score of 5.5/10, I was at a loss when it came to knowing just what to do with the score of information provided by the app.

Wanting to better understand what the Think Dirty app was telling me, I reached out to the Safe Cosmetics coalition for insights on the types of chemicals typically found in cosmetics and the resources consumers have to better understand them.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics was first created in 2004 due to widespread concern and growing questions about the safety of personal care products. Finding it a bit of a “chicken or egg” issue, I asked which came first – overly toxic personal care and beauty products or the consumer’s’ desire for more information? “It’s not that the ingredients that are being used in cosmetics are more toxic, it’s that consumers are becoming more aware than ever that there are harmful chemicals being used in cosmetic products that they could and should be avoiding,” explained Janet Nudelman, Director Program, Policy and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

When it comes to apps like Think Dirty, Janet calls them “incredibly helpful tools” for consumers interested in looking at the safety of cosmetic products as a whole, learning more about the unsafe ingredients in products, and using that information to make better and more informed buying decisions.

“Individuals are bombarded with labeling claims all the time: Paraben free! Sulfate free! All Green! All natural! Organic!” Janet remarks. “It can be hard to differentiate between what is true and what is simply a marketing claim being used to sell products.”

For consumers (like myself) unable to make heads or tails of these claims, Janet recommends digging deeper and visiting the sites of organizations like Safe Cosmetics and Made Safe for a full rundown of what’s in their products. “If you want to skip scanning every product you are shopping for at stores or online, look for products with a Made Safe seal of approval […] Made Safe is a comprehensive human-health focused certification for non-toxic products. Product ingredients are checked against their Toxicant Database of known harmful chemicals, which is made up of thousands of chemicals found on scientifically authoritative lists from organizations and agencies around the world. They use up-to-date on scientific literature so consumers don’t have to skim scientific journals themselves.”

Of course, there’s no denying the fact that, according to new research published in the Journal of Global Fashion and Marketing, only 18 percent of all claims made in commercials for cosmetics prove to be trustworthy. Furthermore, there are many cries of “sensationalist” or even “alarmist” claims and language by the industry that may deter even the most well-meaning consumer from really doing their research (or knowing what to believe, for that matter). To that, Janet says, “’Sensationalism’” is often used as a defense by the cosmetics industry in order to justify their use of ingredients linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, or reproductive toxicity in their products.

“So as not to feed into the industry “hype,” the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics makes sure to use scientifically accurate, peer-reviewed literature for the information we generate about chemicals of concern used in cosmetics linked to cancer and other adverse health effects. Fortunately, there are plenty of chemicals used by the cosmetics industry which are not linked to harmful health effects, and many good safer alternatives are being developed every day for the chemicals of concern we know are being used in cosmetics.”

At the end of the day, while it’s up to the consumer to do their research and figure out what they are and are not comfortable with, there exists some comfort in knowing that there are several resources out there for them to arm themselves with.

While I started this article after noticing what I thought was the emergence of a new retail trend – perhaps a direct result of the ever-increasing role technology has taken in the beauty world – I realized this trend is more of a domino effect, starting with the fact that today’s consumer is far less likely to take just any company’s claim at face value. While beauty lovers continue to do research to ensure only the best products end up in their medicine cabinets, makeup bags, and homes as a whole, it would behoove all cosmetic companies to provide as much information as they can about what’s really in their products.

As her final word of advice, Janet recommends consumers like myself, who might be looking to start fresh with better quality products, start small by slowly replacing items as they run out. As a brand, wouldn’t you want to be the first brand a consumer thinks of when they decide they want to strive for new, safer products?

Dayana Cadet

Dayana Cadet

Dayana’s love affair with writing spans all manner of content. As the Content Specialist at Hubba, connecting people to the things they love is where she thrives.

Follow her at @D_isforDayana
Dayana Cadet