We seem to spend so much time worrying about what we put IN our body but not nearly as much time stressing about what we put ON our body – something that can be just as damaging to our health.
Which is why a concerned dad of two young kids took matters into his own hands.
When Tim McDonald realised how many beauty and grooming products contained some seriously dangerous chemicals he created an app, Init, which takes into account the ingredients and chemical composition in cosmetic products.
It alerts users to the potentially harmful chemicals that are present in the items.
The app uses a four-stage, colour-coded rating system of ‘bad’, ‘mediocre’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’.
esprit caught up with Tim to find out more about the app.
How did you come up with the idea for Init?
“It started due to discontent with the Australian Health Star Rating system. Although that’s a food-rating system, a huge number of nutritionists consider it as hugely flawed, and more of a food marketing tool than a health rating tool. So we took that input and tried to build something better. After doing food ratings, we added beauty and personal care products to the algorithm too after realising how many dangerous chemicals were a part of our everyday cosmetics.”
How long did it take you to create the app from start to finish?
“Well, it’s never ‘finished’. It’s ongoing because there’s always new products to add to the database, or new health research coming out. But it took close to a year to conceptualise and launch the app. Gathering data about the products is actually the biggest task but we were lucky because we had already had a price comparison app (ShopJam). That app contained the raw ingredient data that we use to calculate the health ratings. So a huge step was conveniently solved by accident for us.”
Tell us about any difficulties?
“Challenges? There’s a lot. The biggest challenge is designing an app that’s easy to grasp, and one that people actually use in real life.”
Who is the app for?
“It’s designed for anyone interested in their health, whether that’s food or products that you put on your skin. Our most hard-core users are typically mums with young kids. They’ve said it’s a great way to teach kids about healthy products vs ones that aren’t.”
Could a beauty advisor/assistant use it on the shop floor? How?
“Absolutely. There’s a lot of ingredients used in beauty products that are difficult to pronounce, let alone understand! If you’re unsure what an ingredient is, the app helps you identify it, and quickly understand its risk profile, or often why it’s even used in a beauty product (e.g, a pigment chemical vs a preservative ingredient). All you have to do is scan a product barcode and it will give you all of that information.”
How do you determine whether a product is harmful or not?
“We rely on scientific research for those assessments. We’re not industrial chemists so we rely on published scientific studies by academics and health professionals, as well as usage recommendations from international governmental cosmetic regulators. We supply citations to relevant research sources when a risky ingredient is displayed in the Init app.”
What do you hope to achieve by creating this app?
“Better health awareness among people. Health science can be overwhelming and simple awareness is the first step to living more healthily.”