Shopping for safe cosmetics is harder than it should be. Labels are full of confusing claims like “natural,” “organic” and “clean” and it’s not always clear what each one means or if it even means anything at all. Ingredient lists are printed in tiny font and full of unrecognizable chemicals and hidden ingredients. We can’t even tell what’s in these products, much less which parts of them are safe or not.
When I first started looking at my cosmetic products to determine if they were safe or not, I was faced with a big problem: There were just too many ingredients that I’d never heard of. It made it hard for me to choose the safest, healthiest products. Like many busy people in between work, school and taking care of myself, learning about the ingredients in my products didn’t seem like a priority. But even when it became part of my job as a campaign associate at U.S. PIRG to learn about cosmetic ingredients, I felt like I didn’t have the time or memory capacity to know about all the bad chemicals out there. After all, companies use over 12,000 chemicals to make cosmetic products today.
That’s why U.S. PIRG is calling on cosmetic companies to take responsibility for the safety of their products and do three things to protect their customers’ health:
Disclose all ingredients to the public so they are easily accessible and readable.
Eliminate toxic ingredients and contaminants from products and replace them with safer alternatives.
Adopt the Precautionary Principle, which states that no chemical should be used until it is proven safe.
Consumers should be able to trust in the safety of the products they buy without taking on the time-consuming burden of checking out each and every ingredient, one by one.
But, as we continue to work to ensure the safety of cosmetic and personal care products, that’s not yet the reality we live in. In the meantime, consumers need easy-to-use resources to help them shop safer.
This week, we are highlighting a helpful, free Chrome extension and app called Clearya.
Clearya began with a passionate couple, Amit Rosner and Chen Rosner Orbach, from Israel. After Chen was diagnosed with and recovered from cancer, the couple decided to rid their house of toxic products. But they quickly realized how difficult it was to sort the good from the bad. So they embarked on a journey to create an automated program that would change that. Amit and Chen’s awful experience with cancer made them passionate about finding safer products and fueled a desire to help others find them too.
Clearya’s mission is to empower consumers to shop safer and shift the demand so personal care companies are moved to make safer products.
Here’s how it works: Shoppers add the free web extension in a Chrome web browser on their computers, or use the Clearya app on their mobile devices. As shoppers search personal care products online, Clearya highlights chemicals of concern and alerts shoppers of their toxicity. With this extension, ingredient review is integrated into the online shopping experience, so shoppers don’t have to go to a separate site, such as a cosmetic safety database, to check products for ingredient safety. The program analyzes the ingredients and compares them to hazardous ingredient lists compiled by various international regulatory agencies.
The extension is compatible with consumer products that have an ingredients list on Amazon, Walmart, Sephora or Iherb.* While Clearya only works with products that share their ingredient lists, the organization is looking at expanding to cover more products and retailers. This is another reason why we are advocating for comprehensive ingredient disclosure on company websites.
Not only is this tool helpful for consumers, but it’s also helpful for advocates researching dangerous ingredients in personal products. That’s why the U.S. PIRG Make It Toxic-Free campaign is teaming up with Clearya for an upcoming research project. I’m looking forward to what our teams can accomplish together.
To keep us safe, cosmetic companies need to change and we need industry regulation to make sure they do. But right now, resources like Clearya can help bridge the gap. We all deserve safer cosmetic products and an easier way to purchase them. Download the free extension here.
*Clearya can also help online shoppers find safer versions of other products, such as cookware and disposable foodware, by displaying data on contaminants from lab testing carried out by environmental health organizations such as Ecology Center (cookware) and Center for Environmental Health (disposable foodware).