How to avoid harmful chemicals: just pick up your iPhone

Happy New Year! My first post of 2011 will be a cheerful one: I’ve made a new and potentially very useful discovery. I frequently harp on the fact that household and personal care products are rife with nasty chemicals (even the ones that say they’re not!), but I’ve never found an easy way to avoid them. How can you tell which products are the safest when you’re browsing the drug store aisle without your computer?

Well, turns out there’s an iPhone app for that. The GoodGuide, a database that ranks household products according to their health and environmental impacts, has a new feature on its free iPhone application that uses the phone’s camera as a barcode scanner. Simply pick up a product, use the camera to scan the barcode, and within seconds you can see its GoodGuide score (the higher the number, the better the product). I discovered this new feature yesterday and ran around my apartment scanning barcodes like a mad woman. I’m proud to note that most of what I scanned scored quite well—but that’s probably because I do my homework before I go shopping. Now, though, I won’t have to. Yet another excuse to be lazy.

Download the Goodguide’s free iPhone app here.

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6 Responses to How to avoid harmful chemicals: just pick up your iPhone

  1. Gaythia says:

    I’d like to ask you to correct your “chemical free” headline here. I believe this to be potentially misleading. As a chemist, one of my most frequently fielded question from non-scientist friends is a request that I aid them in finding a product of the type that they are interested in, but “without any chemicals in it”. I always take the time to explain why this request is utterly impossible before offering them suggestions or referring them to references such as Good Guide you mention above.

    I agree that Good Guide is a highly worthwhile resource, which takes into account not only the impact on the end user but also the product supply chain. Good Guide also understands that products are not divided into “natural” and “chemical” and base their ratings on real toxicological data for the components of the products.

  2. Hi Gaythia, thanks for your note. You’re completely right: I wanted to keep the title short and simple, but as written, it’s inaccurate. We can never truly be chemical-free (nor would we want to be!). I’ll amend it now.

  3. Gaythia says:

    Thanks! (the link needs amending also).

  4. Nice post. I had a convo with the VP of biz dev for GoodGuide before the holiday. Fascinating app, with profound commercial implications. And damn scary if you’re a company. (or if you’re a PR guy like me.)

    Imagine consumers learning at the point of sale that the product you’re about to buy was made by a company that “violated the clean water act” or contains something that’s been hyped up as harmful. If you’re a company, you have exactly zero seconds to get your side of the story to the consumer.

    The Good Guide folks seem to be willing to work with companies, at least a bit, on issues like this. So I give them credit for that. But I can tell you this – they’re under a lot of pressure to be accurate 100% of the time.

    I wrote about it here:

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