5 Reasons I Don’t Recommend Relying on Ingredient Apps (Yuka, Think Dirty, EWG)

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Do you have one of those popular cleaning ingredient apps that scans your products to check for toxic ingredients? Think Dirty, Yuka, and EWG are apps that help you find out if the products you’re shopping for are truly non-toxic. They are all the rage right now.

I’m always seeing people in Target using them to look up whether or not the ingredients on their products are clean. But how accurate are those apps? Can you rely on them?

As an environmental lawyer turned clean living coach, I can appreciate the intention behind them, and I love seeing people care more about the ingredients in their products. But those apps have some serious drawbacks.

In this episode, I’ll share five reasons why those apps might not be as accurate as you think. If you rely on them when purchasing your products because you want clean, non-toxic products in your home, listen up!

A Side Note

Before I tell you some drawbacks, I want to give some praise to all of these companies. All of these apps are trying to do something good. They’re trying to bring to light and share information with the masses. They’re trying to teach people to read labels and understand what you’re putting in and on your body. I think all of that is fantastic.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit organization and they do work on lobbying and changing laws. I have worked some grassroots lobbying in support of laws that they have passed in California. I also highly recommend their tap water database. They have one of the most extensive tap water contamination databases, and I think they’re amazing.

This episode is not meant to shit on the EWG. I think the intentions are good. I just think that because it’s such a huge thing to try to wrap your head around every ingredient and every product, it’s an impossible task to keep up with. So, I applaud all of them for trying to fix what is very clearly an issue.

But if you’re someone relying on them, these are some really important things that you should know. Let’s talk about my five reasons I don’t recommend non-tox apps.

1. It’s Just Their Opinion

A score on an app is not a black-and-white truth. This is somebody’s opinion about whether or not an ingredient is clean or not.

Ideally, they’ll tell you why something is labeled clean or not. Unfortunately, that’s not really what you’re getting. It’s hard to dig into why they came to that conclusion so you can decide for yourself, and whether or not you agree with it. I disagree with the ratings on these apps all the time.

Let me give you a couple of examples.


On EWG, you can create a product and become EWG-verified, which I think everybody holds in high regard as the “cleanest”.” In my opinion, that’s not true. They have approved ingredients that I would never use.

Phenoxyethanol is one of the ingredients they allow in EWG-verified products. Phenoxyethanol is a preservative; it’s not the worst preservative out there, but it’s also not clean. There are a lot of safe, clean, toxin-free options for preservatives, and Phenoxyethanol is not one of them.


One of the ingredients on the top of my toxins to avoid list is fragrance. Undisclosed fragrance can contain hundreds of ingredients that you are unaware of (and the companies buying the fragrance are often unaware themselves) that are very harmful to your health.

Diethyl phthalates are associated with miscarriage risk, preterm birth, endometriosis, and a higher risk of breast cancer. These are some really serious health issues, and they should be avoided.

Lilial can hide in undisclosed fragrance and is banned in Europe because it is known to cause birth defects. There are still a lot of companies out there selling products using these ingredients. If you don’t know what’s in your fragrance, they could potentially have these ingredients in them.

And yet, if you look on the Yuka app and you look up a shampoo that has an undisclosed fragrance in it, it pops up as low risk. It says it’s a potential allergen and irritant when we know there can be a lot of other issues with it. The bigger issue is you have no idea what’s in it. There are 3,800 ingredients out there that companies can use in their products.

I would never recommend anybody buy a product with an undisclosed fragrance, but Yuka says it’s low risk.. which can be really confusing. If you’re somebody who doesn’t know what you’re looking at and you see it’s low risk, you’ll probably think it’s not a big deal.

2. Lack of Accuracy in Ingredients

Companies change their ingredients all the time. As somebody who has a toxin-free shopping guide with clean products, I make sure they meet my standards based on my research and I share that research. Companies will often change their ingredients, so I’m constantly having to re-review the products I’m recommending.

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked up ingredients in products on one of these apps and they’re completely wrong and out of date. They don’t have the most updated version, and it’s not their fault. It’s a huge issue in the industry.

The app Switch Natural goes off of photographs of labels, so at least you’ll get more of an accurate representation of what the ingredients are because you’re feeding the app an actual picture of the ingredients. On apps like EWG, Yuka, or Think Dirty, you have to search for particular products, and then they pop up on the app. You don’t have a way of knowing if those are the latest ingredients you’re looking at.

I’m not saying it’s their fault. It’s just a drawback of relying on these apps.

3. Lack of Safety Data

There’s a false sense of security when people see a rating. They see that there’s science to show this ingredient is safe when that’s not always the case.

I’m going to give a perfect example. There’s an ingredient called cocamidopropyl betaine that EWG rates between a 1 and a 5 depending on the source. This ingredient can become contaminated through the manufacturing process. It can cause serious skin irritation and contact dermatitis.

When consumers started becoming aware and started to avoid this ingredient in their products, companies decided to make something different that’s basically the exact same. So, they came up with Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine.

That ingredient is manufactured almost the same way and comes with the exact same contamination issues. It’s just a newer ingredient and is called by a different name. The EWG rates it as a 1 because there’s no data on it. It’s too new of an ingredient. Thousands of ingredients come on to the market every day that have never been tested.

By giving them a 1 on the EWG app, it’s a a false sense of security, when in reality, there should be a “?” for “we have no idea if this ingredient is safe”.

4. They Change Their Ratings

They change them when there’s not even new science! It makes me crazy. Think Dirty is the worst when it comes to this. They have some terrible products that used to be rated terrible, like Tide and Clorox, but they started lowering their ratings. There are ingredients on the apps like grapefruit seed oil, which comes with some serious contamination issues, and the EWG used to rate it as a 6, but now it’s a 1 to 3. Nothing has changed. The science hasn’t changed (that I’ve been able to find). The contamination issue is still a serious issue because we’re talking about contaminants like triclosan and methylparabens. These are ingredients that are very concerning.

I have no idea why they changed their rating. I personally think it should be a 6. Check back often and make sure the products you’re choosing haven’t changed in their ratings. The fact that they change their ratings when they don’t have the science to support the change is concerning to me.

Again, that just goes to show that these are opinions. Whoever’s working on the research is changing their opinion. I haven’t changed my opinions on those ingredients. They’re on my avoid list for a reason, and they’re going to stay there.

5. Pay to Play

That’s the nature of these apps. Specifically, when it comes to EWG and their EWG-verified process, companies pay per product to get them listed. A large company with thousands of products is spending a lot of money to go through the verification process.

I don’t completely begrudge them for having a pay-to-play type of scenario because somebody has to review the ingredients, send in their third-party testing, and review their manufacturing processes. I understand why there may be some kind of exchange of money happening, but they’re also a large nonprofit organization that brings in millions of dollars that could be used to make it fair across the board.

What ends up happening is large companies with money pay, and they go through the process to get EWG-verified. That verification process allows toxic ingredients to slip through the cracks. You think you’re buying clean, but that’s not the case. They allow a lot of ingredients on their EWG-verified products that are on my avoid list.

The other issue is if a company pays for the verification and you’re using an ingredient, they rate that ingredient lower. Then, if another smaller company can’t afford the EWG verification but they’re using the same ingredient, the product can have a higher rating on their app. Just because that company didn’t pay them and go through their verification process. I fundamentally disagree with that.

Again, I’m not trying to come down on these apps. I have a lot of respect for these companies. I’m sure you do too. It’s probably why you’re using them. We’re all in the same world of trying to bring awareness to toxins. EWG is a huge organization. They have a lot of sway. They have lobbied to changed laws for the better and I applaud them for their efforts.

I just don’t want people to blindly trust these apps. Don’t outsource your judgment to an app.

You’re probably thinking, “How am I supposed to use my judgment when I don’t understand what these ingredients even are?” That’s why I created Toxin-Free in 3, my signature course that teaches you the top 25 ingredients to avoid. I don’t just give you the ingredients to avoid; I share the science. I explain what these ingredients do in these products and why I avoid them. I give you the links to read the research for yourself. I walk you through exercises where we read labels of popular companies so you can start to practice and figure out what it’s like to read a label for yourself and decide if that product is worth bringing into your home.

Check out the course – I’d love to work with you 1:1 to make your life a little less toxic.

Related Episodes

Episode 8: Toxin Free(ish) : How to Prioritize What Matters Most

Episode 41: The First Three Steps to Creating a Toxin Free Life You Actually Love

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