The cosmetics industry is obviously tested and controlled by regulatory bodies, but for many people just a “this probably won’t cause acid burns” stamp by the EU or the FDA doesn’t go far enough. I have an ex-girlfriend that obsessively checked shampoo and conditioner labels in stores, looking for the no-go ingredients she considered unhealthy to put on her head. To understand which chemicals to avoid, she used message boards and even a physical book about healthy cosmetics, but in 2014 for her current boyfriend’s sake there’s got to be a quicker way to get her in and out of a cosmetics store rather than digging through the 20 lines of small print latin words on the backside of every bottle.
She’s not alone. As we’ve gotten a better understanding of “every-day” chemicals’ effects on the human body, there’s plenty of reasons to avoid certain ingredients. Some people may be avoiding allergens, others don’t want to be around carcinogens, and others don’t want chemicals that act as hormones or toxins to get in contact with them.
Enter CosmEthics, a new app under development in Finland where you can scan the barcode of the product you’re thinking of buying, and then dig into the research done on the chemicals in the product. They’ve just announced they’ve raised an impressive €300,000 seed funding round led by a group of Finnish angel investors.
The way the app works is that after scanning the barcode you’re given information based on what’s out there in the research literature. For instance, if no alerts come up, the app gives you a green code that it’s good to go, while if there are allergen alerts it pulls up an orange alert. If the product triggers a toxin/carcinogen/or hormone alert, the app pulls up a red alert.
What I think is smart is that the app doesn’t just give you a yes or no for a product. Instead they lead you to summarized research on the chemicals and their effects when the alerts come up, leading to a better informed consumer. At this current iteration it will be free for users to get all this information, but if you want specific alerts based on your individual preferences (say you’re not scared of carcinogens but you want your cosmetics to be vegan) you can unlock your personal preferences through an in-app payment. When a “bad” product pops up, CosmEthics will then be able to lead users to other products in the same category that do not trigger alerts.
This is one side of the product, but on the other side CosmEthics is helping users, bloggers, and professionals curate their “bag” of products by creating lists of products they use or like. You can especially see this blowing up when you consider fashion bloggers with different hair types, pregnant women, or other categories.
If this general concept sounds familiar, there is one competitor out there, the NGO Environmental Working Group and an app called Think Dirty, which CosmEthics tells us is US focused with their database and gives unpractical ratings – like giving “toxic” results to all users based on allergens. Additionally Think Dirty doesn’t provide anything actionable nor does it give users a community feeling, giving CosmEthics an open market and some special sauce by compiling their own database.
This is a stupidly large market they they’re plugging into. The global mobile phone market is said to be “only” €132 Billion, while meanwhile the cosmetics industry has €130 billion annual sales in the EU and U.S.. Meanwhile cosmetics are one of the biggest industries when it comes to marketing spending – one reason of which is that it’s difficult to communicate the benefits of one product over the other. At first CosmEthics is targeting the EU market first, which is obviously more fragmented but is actually a larger size than the U.S. cosmetics market.
The team have made it to the semi-finals of President Clinton’s Hult prize for non-communicable disease prevention, and is currently recruiting full-time iOS and Android developers.
After talking to CosmEthics founder Katariina Rantanen, I’ve grown to become especially suspicious of toothpaste. As anyone who has tried snus (the nordic chewing tobacco) knows, putting something in your mouth gives chemicals like Nicotine quick and easy access to your bloodstream. Meanwhile I’m brushing my teeth with toothpaste that advertises whitening, which could very well contain chemicals that act like estrogen. Man, all I wanted was some whitening toothpaste to balance out all this snus I’m using! These are the perils of modern life.