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Interview
Display of EWG Healthy Living App on iPhone

Going Skin Deep into EWG’s Healthy Living App

BWB had the chance to sit down with Carla Burns, EWG Research Analyst, and learn how to navigate the app, be kinder to the environment, and take better care of ourselves and loved ones.

The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to helping consumers make sound choices for themselves and the environment around them. As fervent advocates of public health, EWG has a dedicated team of scientists, policy experts, and lawyers who work tirelessly to collect groundbreaking scientific research, distribute knowledge to the public, and fight for sustainable practices and safe ingredients.

One of their most ingenious innovations for breeding a culture of informed consumers is the Healthy Living App, which can tell you what exactly there is inside your favorite fruits or skin products at just the touch of a button. BWB had the chance to sit down with Carla Burns, EWG Research Analyst, and learn how to navigate the app, be kinder to the environment, and take better care of ourselves and our loved ones.

What was EWG’s mission in developing the Healthy Living App?

EWG developed the Healthy Living App to help make it even easier for people to find consumer goods that meet EWG’s standards for health and safety. Our Healthy Living app combines two of our most popular resources, Skin Deep® and Food Scores, allowing shoppers to scan the bar codes of personal care or food products to see how they rate in EWG’s databases. While our web-based databases are still extremely important, we realize that not everyone has time to look up individual ingredients or products prior to going on a shopping trip. The app makes it that much easier for consumers to quickly look up a product, determine how hazardous that product may be, and then make an educated decision about their purchase.

When we scan a product and discover it has poor ratings, what resources does EWG have that can help lead us to a better option?

If you scan a product and it does not rate well because it contains ingredients of concern, your best bet is to use the app to find a better-scoring, less hazardous alternative. In the app, you can browse by product category and further filter by “best score” to find similar products with better ratings. The fastest way to find products that do not contain worrisome ingredients is by selecting the EWG VERIFIED™ category to find products that go above and beyond a green rating by meeting all of EWG’s strictest criteria and standards.

Let’s say you find a product that happens not to be in the app database. What now?

EWG is constantly updating and adding new products to Skin Deep® and Food Scores, but if you are unable to find your product using the app, you may not be out of luck! If it is a personal care product, visit the Skin Deep® website and you can create your own product report using the “Build your own report” tool. The tool allows you to get a sense of how a product would score from a hazard perspective, but these reports are not reviewed by EWG staff.

 

What might we be surprised to learn about some of the most popular food and personal care products that millions of Americans use everyday?

Most people are surprised when they find out that cosmetic manufacturers in the U.S. are not required to test their ingredients for safety before they hit store shelves. This surprised me when I first found out! Given that the average adult uses almost 10 products each day, exposing him- or herself to more than 100 unique chemicals, this is a big problem. Our Skin Deep® database highlights that there are many products with ingredients that have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, allergies and irritation, and reproductive and developmental problems. Our skin is our largest organ, and many of these chemicals penetrate the skin and get into our bodies. Consequently, biomonitoring studies routinely detect common cosmetic ingredients in people, including in the umbilical cord of newly born babies.

Given that the average adult uses almost 10 products each day, exposing him- or herself to more than 100 unique chemicals, this is a big problem.

What are five key changes that we should make in our lives to get started on a healthy living track?

The best way to get started on the healthy living track is to know what chemicals are in the products that you bring into your home – whether that’s food, cosmetics, cleaning products, or furniture. Education is key! There are many factors to consider when deciding which products to buy, and the best option will differ for each person. Check the labels and ignore market claims such as “natural,” “healthy,” and “nontoxic,” since these claims are often unregulated and mean nothing. Look for products that bear the EWG VERIFIED™ mark, meaning they are recognized products that meet EWG’s strictest standards for health and don’t contain any of EWG’s chemicals of concern. And, most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed! Take it one step at a time. Even small changes can have a big effect on reducing your overall body burden of harmful chemicals.

Most consumers believe that healthy automatically means more expensive. Is the most pricy choice always the best choice?

No. Price has no correlation to safety. There are expensive products that contain harmful ingredients and, nowadays, as more and more companies start to reformulate products with less hazardous ingredients, you are able to find safer products at a cheaper price point. The only way to tell if a product is devoid of ingredients of concern is by checking the label or by using resources like EWG’s databases or Healthy Living app. 

Other than making better choices for ourselves, how can we make better choices for the world around us? (How to support EWG as well)

One way to make better choices not just for yourself, but society as a whole, is to continue to push the market towards safer products. The easiest way to do this is to support companies that prioritize your health by choosing safer ingredients and manufacturing safer products. EWG started the EWG VERIFIED™ program as a way to help consumers recognize products that meet this standard – i.e., ones that do not contain harmful ingredients, fully disclose their ingredients, and are made with sustainable manufacturing practices.

Teresa Deely

Teresa Deely is a junior at Columbia University majoring in English and Creative Writing. As President of the Columbia University Glee Club, she loves to sing, make music, and celebrate multiple modes of artistic expression. She believes that one’s skin is yet another canvas and vehicle for art, and has loved styling her hair and applying makeup from a young age. While she has spent most of her time in educating youth and leading enrichment programs for children, she is highly motivated in discovering new ways to care for herself and sharing them with others.

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