Think Dirty creator Lily Tse was 11 years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mom survived, but it had a lasting impact on Tse.
“As I was growing up, I was always aware of risk factors,” Tse recalls. While many of them are beyond control, she paid attention to the things she could control, reading labels on products to try to decipher ingredients and avoid potential carcinogens.
Years later, while working as a designer at an ad agency, Tse noticed that beauty ads tended to avoid mentioning ingredients. “They focus so much on the psychological selling points of the products,” she says. “As women, we are being told to feel insecure about our physical appearance, that we need to worry about getting older, or we’re not as beautiful. Our purchasing decisions are driven by this insecurity.”
She wanted to change that. “We spend a lot of money on beauty products, so I feel like we deserve to know what’s actually inside. We also deserve to know whether the ingredients are actually good for us in the long term.”
Tse set to work creating Think Dirty, an app that’s meant to empower people to make purchases with all the facts about what they’re putting on their bodies.
Thinking of buying a shampoo or moisturizer? Search in the app or scan the barcode and you’ll instantly get a full profile of the product. A colour-coded breakdown of the ingredients will help you quickly decipher if there’s any potentially concerning health impacts from those chemicals. You’ll also get links to the sources of data, so if you’re interested, you can do a deep dive into the research.
Helping Make Conscious Consumers
Think Dirty launched in 2013 with just under 10,000 products. It’s now grown to include a database of more than 2 million personal care, baby, and cleaning products—and that list is growing daily.
Since she launched the app a decade ago, Tse has seen consumer attitudes toward beauty products come a long way. “Every Gen Z and millennial is definitely fully aware of clean beauty,” she says. “They are much more educated.”
That makes Tse’s work easier. More people are using the app to find information, as well as suggesting product additions and uploading images and ingredient lists of the products they’re shopping for in order to learn more about them and help grow the database.
As women, we are being told to feel insecure about our physical appearance. Our purchasing decisions are driven by this insecurity.
—Lily Tse, founder of Think Dirty
As customers get savvier, Tse is responding in Think Dirty with new features to help them shop smarter, such as setting preferences in the app for ingredients they want to include or exclude.
Think Dirty now advises on more than just health, with categories for vegan and low-waste products, as well as those created by female entrepreneurs.
“I read user reviews almost every day,” says Tse. “I’m constantly observing what our users care about and helping them align their consumption with their values.”
Tse hopes that Think Dirty helps people think more critically about the purchasing decisions they make. And getting positive feedback from people who use the app lets her know that she’s on the right track.
“I’m just happy that the app is part of creating a conversation that’s challenging how companies should approach disclosing ingredients and ingredient safety.”