The beauty industry is huge. There are literally millions of products, for every possible cause on the market with more coming every day.
In the last decade, in that mass, ethical beauty has become more prominent. Many more consumers are looking for skincare and cosmetics that are organic, natural, vegan and ‘clean’.
At the same time though, the complexity of industry terms and jargon has gone up. ‘Green washing’ and ‘Clean washing’ - the process whereby a brand makes products appear more ethical and natural than they are by hiding behind clever use of marketing speak - has become a huge challenge.
This affects you, the consumer, because you don’t know who to trust and which products are good for you and the planet. And affects us, as a purveyor of truly ‘green’ brands, because you have no clue if the brands are trustworthy.
There’s little regulation or policing in beauty marketing. So consumers get misled and small brands get suffocated by huge brands spending massively on marketing messages that stretch the truth.
That’s where technology can make a difference.
Clean beauty apps, like the Think Dirty App, Yuka and INCI Beauty are basically databases that independently help you understand what you’re buying and how ‘clean’ it is. As Suvarna is an openly conscious retailer with products from several certified natural, vegan and ethical skin, hair and beauty brands, we welcome this transparency!
However, there are pros and cons of each app. So to help you pick an app you can trust, we’ve honestly reviewed the ones we’ve found (and our brands are on), from a small brand standpoint.
We’re sharing our feedback on them with you, and we’d love to hear your thoughts @suvarna here.
First things first:
We’ve looked at the cost to brands to be on here. Why does that matter?
Because many small beauty businesses cannot afford huge fees to appear on an app.
That doesn’t mean that it’s bad to charge, it’s not, but we want you to know if that’s the case or not, so you can be considered in your information.
We’ve looked at their ‘experts’ to make sure they’re as independent and up-to-date as possible
Secondly, sometimes science can become outdated, or need a review. This is particularly the case with essential oils, so be careful to check the sites you use, have a policy of staying up to date with research and don’t share ‘cod’ science instead of the latest facts.
How it Works:
You can download the Think Dirty app from the Apple Store and Google Play. You simply scan a beauty product barcode and if the product is one of the reported 1.5 million, it’ll show up.
The Think Dirty app will rank the product from one to ten, with one being the cleanest and ten being pretty terrible. This is based on the individual ingredients.
Cost to consumers: Free
Fees for brands: This is what the Think Dirty app team shared when we asked about fees:
“As a rough benchmark, there is a one-time initial review fee of $250-300 per SKU [product].
After products have gone through the initial review process, we charge a monthly, quarterly, or yearly fee. The rough benchmark for this is anywhere from $90-200 per SKU per month.”
So, if a brand put forward just 25 products it would cost about £5000 to get going and then about £25,000 per year.
That’s an enormous amount.
And that’s why the brands most visible on the Think Dirty app are ones with deep pockets - they are venture capital funded or owned by the big beauty houses. This doesn’t mean the Think Dirty app isn’t legitimate. As we understand, it absolutely is, and we agree with their findings on ingredients.
But the return on the investment doesn’t stack up, so most of the small brands in the industry we work with, simply cannot afford it. - As a comparison, Soil Association certification (which includes label checks, but also an annual site visit and audit) for a brand with a turnover of £500,000 would cost about £2000 per year (it is calculated as 0.04% of revenue).
N.B. Brands can appear for free on Think Dirty if users upload the details but Think Dirty says it can take up to a year for the product to be reviewed.
Verdict: The information on this site is largely accurate, but it's definitely biased towards the bigger brands. By cutting so many brilliant businesses out of its reach with the fees, it loses a lot of potential sources of information, meaning it’s not as wide ranging as it could be.
We’d love to see the process by which user uploads are processed is faster, because the app itself is fantastic.
2. INCI Beauty
How it works
Based in France, INCI Beauty is huge in Europe and it’s independent.
It can be translated across five languages and is easy to understand.
INCI Beauty is available as an app on the Apple, Google Play, and Microsoft app stores. You can scan barcodes or search via product, ingredient and brand ranking.
INCI gives an overall score out of 20, with 20 being great and one being terrible. They use the INCI list of ingredients (the list you see on the back on the pack) to analyse each ingredient, which receives a flower rank:
- Green flower: Good
- Yellow flower: Satisfactory
- Orange flower: Not so good
- Red flower: Controversial
We really like INCI; it takes professional beauty formulation standards and makes them accessible to all, which is exactly what we believe this sort of app should do.
It is independent and we largely agree with most of the decisions here.
We think it’s super important to be transparent, so we need to let you know that EWG first came to our attention, when one of our partner brands got a customer query. EWG had suggested that the brand didn’t have great ratings on their site, because they believe that aloe vera leaf is a potential carcinogen.
As a committed brand, we approached the ingredient supplier regarding this. They have confirmed that the juice comes from the inner ‘fillet’ of freshly picked organic aloe leaves using a patented process to retain all the valuable nutrients of the juice.
The powder is not a whole leaf product or made from the leaf itself, so there is no issue.
We do not like criticising the work of others, but following significant further research, we can’t endorse EWG. They have a reputation across the industry for being somewhat misleading – see for example these articles here:
The main problem that we can see, is that they appear to take information out of context. The aloe vera (whereby they do not specify the gel/leaf distinction), and another issue with tea tree oil are prime examples.
Tea tree is a powerful ingredient and should not be used by those who do not know what they are doing.
However, there are several issues with how the EWG presents its information on tea tree - not least the complexity, lack of relevance, recency and some really odd correlations. They miss much of the detail and demonise a really great ingredient, without context.
Cost to consumers: Free
Fees for brands: Similar to the Think Dirty app, this is an expensive place for brands to appear. It costs from $500 for a first listing, although there is a free (much slower) upload option as well.
In an age of fake news, it's easy to mislead, and like any other health information, the facts should be presented clearly and easily to understand. We simply cannot endorse them. Even water is a chemical, and if you tried hard enough, you’d make that sound harmful too. Everything needs to be presented in context to offer value to the consumer.
4. Good Face App by The Good Face Project
The Good Face App takes not only ingredients, but also helps users to create a personalised skincare regimen based on their needs. It’s a neat way to enable an end to end buying journey for customers that includes education.
How it works
The Good Face App is currently only available on the Apple app store.
You use the search bar to check ingredients and products. It’s not as comprehensive as the Think Dirty app, but most come up when we check – up to 100,000 ingredients are listed. These are graded across 15 considerations of safety and cosmetic benefits.
The Good Face app claims to be using the most up-to-date studies and papers and we’ve seen nothing we’d disagree with. We also really like that a product can only be as good as its weakest ingredient, although we urge caution with defining what a ‘weak’ ingredient is. They also state that their algorithm constantly keeps the data up to date. This must be quite a challenge given the scale of information that comes out about beauty products but it’s an interesting approach.
The information is quite detailed. Users are given safety and toxicity information, user ratings, benefits, key ingredients, purchasing options, clean alternatives to consider, and whether the product is a good match for your skin.
We also like the community tool, although we’re unsure how well moderated it is, which can lead to some confusion and miscommunication in our experience.
Fees to brands: From £299 per year
Some lovely considerations of user-need here – we like the ‘clean swaps’ concept. The Good Face app is also largely independent. The founders have spent a long time considering the needs of its audience and are very reputable.
We would consider this trusted!
Yuka is different in that it covers both food and cosmetic ingredients, which is really useful.
How it Works
Yuka is available on the Apple and Google Play stores. It scans the labels of your food and cosmetic products, searching through around 1.5 million food products and 500,000 cosmetic products. It claims to update daily!
Yuka makes its money with premium memberships. You then get access to additional data and tools. This makes it much more accessible for smaller businesses and really broad in its reach - we love it, especially in France.
Yuka’s scores products on a constantly updated system:
- Risk-free (green dot)
- Low risk (yellow dot)
- Moderate risk (orange dot)
- High risk (red dot)
Cost to consumers: This is the only app as far as we are aware that charges consumers an annual subscription fee (of around £10-15). For this you get access to a giant amount of information on both food and cosmetics.
Fees to brands: While there are paying options, it is free for a brand to upload its products and Yuka processes them quicker than other apps seem to, so it is more small-business friendly.
Our favourite for its ease of use, transparent pricing and great approach to scoring.
We love that if a product has a high risk ingredient - the product cannot score any better than that. So you can’t hide behind ‘greenwashing’ - if there’s a nasty, it’s going to impact the product score honestly.