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Worried about chemicals in cosmetics? Apps may help

By Natash Baker

TORONTO (Reuters) - Consumers worried about what might be lurking within their cosmetics and skin care products can turn to new apps that scan barcodes to review the items for safety.

Each day women are exposed to about 168 chemicals in beauty products, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington-based health research and advocacy group that looks into toxic chemicals.

Think Dirty, a free iPhone app, gives a product a score after scanning the barcode for ingredients and chemicals.

"We all use so many products, and even when we look at the back of the label, we don't understand what's in them because we're not chemists," said Lily Tse, the founder of Think Dirty, which is based in Toronto.

"Cost is No. 1 for the companies who make the products, and making something synthetic that can be mass produced lowers the cost," she explained.

The score indicates whether a product has any harmful ingredients and allergens. The app also lists each ingredient and its potential effect on health using sources such as The National Library of Medicine's Hazardous Substances Data Bank, the EWG and the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental group.

Warnings from regulatory agencies in other countries show up as well.

"If it's considered safe here but not considered safe in Japan then consumers might want to know this," Tse said.

In 2004 the EWG started a website called the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database so consumers could look up potentially hazardous ingredients in skin care products.

It contains information on more than 78,000 items available in the United States.

This month the group plans to release the EWG Skin Deep app for iPhone and Android, which also will let consumers gain access to product information by scanning barcodes.

"We've had hundreds of millions of searches on the site since its launch 2004 and it's one of our flagship projects. It has pretty much changed the way people think about cosmetics," said Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research for the EWG.

Leiba said more people are becoming aware of toxins in cosmetics, and companies are responding by phasing out harmful ingredients.

Think Dirty and Skin Deep both suggest products that contain safer ingredients.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Xavier Briand)

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