“Think Dirty”, the app that cared for you

What is the Think Dirty app?

April’s Green Living Show in Toronto is an awesome event to attend! While at the show last year,nd k I discovered new and interesting products brands like Haute Goat. This year, my favorite discovery was a cool little app…The ‘Think Dirty’ app.

Think Dirty is an app that enables consumers to scan the bar codes of beauty products  to obtain an overall rating of the “dirtiness” of this product based on 3 criteria: carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergenicity/immunotoxicity. The concept is simple: the higher the grade, the dirtier the product.

The app also lists all of the ingredients of each scanned product in a pleasantly readable format. Each ingredient is also categorized as either “Clean”, “Half n’ Half” or “Dirty”, and further valuable explanations are available on each of them.  Information like alternate ingredient names, the role of this ingredient in the product, health impacts, and sources that led to the rating, all provide a comprehensive view of the products we have been using on a daily basis! Lastly, the app also suggests alternative, ‘safer’ products to the dirty ones.

… simple!


Evaluations are performed by the Founder and the advisory board of Think Dirty. They all have relevant experience in the field of biology, biochemistry, chemical engineering etc and all the sources used are available on their website. The ratings are based on the potential health impact of the ingredients displayed on the list of ingredients. The “dirty meter” ranges from 0 (neutral) to 10 (dirty) on each of the 3 criteria mentioned above and gives a final grade.  The grade is based directly on the weakest score of the three criteria.  Hence, a product can receive criteria scores of 1, 4, and 9 (in say carcinogenicity)- the overall score of this product will then be 9.

Testing the tester

The first products I scanned from my bathroom were not referenced yet and I received an “Oops-kind-of” message inviting me to suggest the product for future referencing. The process simply consists of taking a picture of the front and the back of the product and to send it to Think Dirty after scanning it. Most of my products were not in their database yet, I imagine because they are from smaller brands (like Green Beaver or even smaller independent makers).

After more investigation, I found some suspicious items in my bathroom… a Nivea Men face wash gel! The thing was Avatar-blue and smelled awesome. I reckoned it HAD to be dirty!. Scanned it and sure enough my instincts were right -it was a 9. Yikes.

This particular product ranked worst on Developmental and Reproductive toxicity, and the list of ingredients shows the presence of methylparaben. In this gel, methylparaben is used as a fragrance and a preservative. It acts like estrogen and is a hormone disruptor, on top of having been linked to some cancers. Better to avoid it next time, maybe?

Dirty meter
The overall score for this product is a 9
The list of its ingredients and additional information on each of them

Spreading the word

One area of improvement I see for the app is to rate more virtuous brands as well. It would be rewarding for people who have great products in their bathroom. And by incorporating better rated products into the database, the app could more readily provide alternate suggestions to the dirty products that are out there.

Also, for users, cross-checking information with other sources is a good idea. Think Dirty is great and it’s from Toronto (yeah!) but other organizations have also developed similar apps. The Environmental Working Group’s app is called Healthy Living and their methodology is very different so it can be interesting to compare both. And as with anything, always apply critical judgement with this type of apps and use them in a way that works for you.

Overall, Think Dirty is a great app. I find it very user friendly, I like the transparency of their methodology and the fact that they’re trying to continuously extend their database. I’ve been using it constantly since I installed it and I am diligently talking about it to loved ones.

So, are you ready to think dirty?!



Captain Jamie’s

Gabi Star

She couldn’t meet on Monday because she was rescuing a cat. So we postponed our meeting.

I met Gabi Star at The Backyard Farm and Market (Mississauga) earlier in June, where she sells her cosmetic products and co-manages the market. On that day, I was volunteering at the Eco-Kitchen but I managed to escape and roamed around her stall, asking to test her natural sunscreen. She intrigued me, as well as the name of her brand, Captain Jamie’s. I decided that I needed to meet her again.

Intuition seldom misleads me. Gabi answered enthusiastically that we should definitely meet. A rescued-cat later, we met at the Thrive Organic Kitchen & Café in Etobicoke.

A Captain behind a brand

Why “Captain Jamie’s” was one of my first question but she answered before I could ask. The Captain is a man who survived many storms, (as beautifully stated by Gabi), including two cancers, and whom Gabi seems to deeply admire and respect. He talked her into exploring her creativity at a deeper level. After making first soaps that were not exactly successful, she persevered and decided to create her own body-care product line, entirely based on natural ingredients. Offering gentle and safe products for fragile people is also what pushed her to undertake this project. The vision behind Captain Jamie’s product line is simple: “to promote a healthy lifestyle, create awareness and inspire”.

Product line

Among other things, Gabi makes sunscreen creams, lip balms, deodorants, body scrubs and soaps. She uses only natural components and none of the harmful ingredients found in conventional cosmetics. (Parabens, aluminium, fragrances, to name a few). Nature provides Gabi’s ingredients. Her favourite spots to forage are secluded places in Toronto and Niagara Escarpment. There, she finds the lavender, peppermint, geranium, chamomile, strawberries and other treasures that end up in her products.

Gabi 3Gabi 2

After testing the sunscreen she gifted to me this morning, I am in deep love with it and can confirm its total efficiency (I am editing this article after a summer spent using it). The texture is amazing and I had to refrain from eating the cream right from the pot. Ingredients? Coconut oil, shea butter, apricot kernel oil, mango butter, aloe gel, beeswax, essential oils and zinc oxide. (If you are interested, here is an article that explains how zinc oxide works).

More products are to come to complete the line, but she can’t tell me what yet, as she herself doesn’t know. She “goes with the flow” and mostly, listens to what people need and answers their needs.


The soul of a Shaman

At the market, Gabi Star became a doctor to many, though she insists that she is not a dermatologist. But people keep asking her how to treat their skin conditions, and from their questions she draws enormous motivation to keep learning about the healing power of plants. But how does one become some sort of a modern shaman in a city like Toronto, today?! I’m glad I asked, because it turns out that her grandmother was herself an Aboriginal shaman and a healer in Moldova, where Gabi grew up. She taught her that Nature has to be listened to and has treasures to offer if we love and respect Mother Earth. The wisdom and knowledge of Aboriginal peoples is also a deep source of admiration for Gabi, namely for “their ability to feel the oneness”.

Speaking of which, she explains to me that the intention she puts in creating her products, which is all love, will be felt by the persons who use them. Because we are all connected. I could feel what she meant by that. As if I was stretching my arm to grasp this oneness concept I have heard about, but it was just an inch too far away. But I guess you need to experience oneness to really understand it. Like you need to ski to understand the feeling of skiing.

Message in a bottle

“Choose a better way. Choose a better path” is the message that Gabi and the mysterious Captain send to people who want to use safe, affordable and authentic cosmetic products. After trying them, I’m on board!

A Soap-making workshop with Kathrin

Have you ever thought of making soap by yourself? Learning alone can be difficult, but learning with Kathrin from For the Love of Body is a completely different story!

Why to make soap by your own?

First, you may wonder why to make one’s own soap instead of buying regular ones from the supermarket. Good question!

-Commercial soaps and shower creams (and cosmetics in general) contain many chemicals whose effects on human bodies and the environment are either dubious or clearly harmful. Since 2006 in Canada, cosmetic manufacturers have to disclose the list of their ingredients on the product. But there are still many grey zones. One of them is the “fragrance” or “perfume” issue: because they are considered as manufacturing “secrets”, brands don’t have to reveal their composition. But it’s a cocktail of chemicals that raise many interrogations.

-Another reason is simply quality. Commercial soaps usually get rid of the glycerin that is a perfect moisturizer since it comes from fat, and they sell it to other industrial purposes. As a result, they don’t leave the skin moisturized and we have to buy separate moisturizers. (it’s a commercial logic, not a logical logic). With your own soap, you can choose which oils to add depending on your skin’s needs and tailor a perfect soap for you.

-Soaps are wonderful gifts for family and friends. They are not only beautiful and smelling delicious, they are useful.

-It’s fun and entertaining to make soaps. The last time I made my own was with a bunch of friends at my place and we spent a super nice moment together.

-It’s zero waste! No plastic needed in the process.

For the Love of Body

I discovered For the Love of Body in Kensington market and immediately knew I had found a gold nugget in Toronto. Kathrin, its founder, is a holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher, and natural products-maker. She teaches soap-making, foraging, kombucha brewing, detox, natural home-care products. In a nutshell, the kind of things that keep me awake at night.

Here, I am going to tell about the first – and not last – workshop that I took with her in April.

Let’s get started

On this sunny Sunday, we were around 13 at Kathrin and Andrew’s workshop. I came with my friend Marie who is a also a zero-waste advocate and maker. We met at the Centre for Social Innovation in Spadina, a charming sort of coworking place for entrepreneurs and change-makers (update 09/10/16: I can’t help adding that I have joined CSI since then and that I am blessed to be part of it). The room was sunny, wooden-floored and with a big nice carpet.

Melt and pour soaps

We learnt how to make two different kind of soaps: melt-and pour soaps and traditional ones. The former are faster to make and don’t require the use of lye (caustic soda). You basically melt a base and then customize it with essential oils, natural fragrances, scrubbing elements and whatever you like.

While the base was melting in the double-boiler, Kathrin explained to us the benefits of essential oils and the difference between them. A topic so vast it could justify another workshop of its own, I thought. We then made two groups and each poured the basis in its mold and chose a fragrance and colour. Our group added Egyptian Geranium essential oil, white clay and dried rose petals… we religiously stirred the mixture, taking tours and chatting happily over our soap-to be.

For melt and pour soaps, there is no curing (drying) period, so after pouring the base in the molds and tracing, we were given our own little cube of pink soap!

Traditional cold process soap-making

After a short break, Kathrin and Andrew started the demo for traditional soaps, that involves lye. This process gives better-quality soaps that can be stored longer. Also, it allows to choose what kind of oils to use, and can be adapted depending on the skin’s needs. The process consists of first mixing water (1) and lye (2), the mixture reaching quickly a very high temperature. Andrew, all googles on, took care of it while I was discretely moving my chair back.  While it was cooling down, we started melting hard oils together in another pot. I think we melted coconut oil and avocado butter. Olive oil, that makes the soap bar hard, was finally added by one of us. It. We then poured the lye into the oils and used an immersion blender to mix everything!

Finally, the mixture was transferred into a wooden mold, to form several long bars of soaps that will be cut into small bars two days after.

The last ingredient of the recipe is patience, as a curing period of around 4 weeks is necessary before being able to use your soaps!

Next steps

I was super happy about the experience and I have already started collecting the ingredients to make mine. I warmly endorse Kathrin for her vast knowledge and enthusiasm! Check out her website for future workshops to come.


Cube soaps on the left: melt and pour . Yellow soaps: traditional cold process soaps