A fellow New Jersey resident, Dory supports local businesses, but also includes recommendations from top-performing global companies as well. I’ve met the lovely Dory many times and we’ve discussed her selection process. I’m always impressed by her strict criteria and thorough research before recommending products for the site and app. She graciously answered some questions so that you can get to know what’s in store for you with this breakthrough app. You are sure to love it! (For now, it’s only available for iPhone users, so I’m standing by for the Galaxy app.)
I’m sure that whittling down the product choices hasn’t been easy. Can you tell me what is the vetting process when you select a product swap for the app?
This is a great question and one that everyone always asks in the form of: why should I trust your recommendation? And how do you know it’s “the best”? The process is a very careful one and always starts with a smaller pool of products to choose from since my criteria are very thorough. Specifically, in order to be a contender, the product must meet all of these 5 criteria:
- Certified Cruelty-free/Endorsed as Cruelty-free/Cruelty-free researched: Leaping Bunny certified (gold-standard), PETA-endorsed, personally researched and/or contacted
- Eco-Friendly: operations and/or packaging, material components, sourcing (including fair trade labor practices), production
- Clean ingredients: Every ingredient is vetted and researched if unknown; It’s a plus if the product has favorable definitive EWG ingredient ratings. Like a prescription medication, ingredients are always considered from a risk/reward benefit and based being an alternative to a current big brand product that is widely used. Ingredients should also be vegan (products containing beeswax are considered).
- Brand Transparency: Non-conflict brand ownership and accountability (i.e., not owned by a parent brand with the a conflicting mission like animal testing or unfair labor standards OR is contractually operating independent of said parent with its own set of unchanged values)
- Quality product performance: Unbiased, uncompensated research is conducted to test out the product, typically over a period of days. Other consumers’ reviews of the product are also considered, especially negative ones. I check these reviews on major online retailer sites. The performance should be on par or better than an existing, less sustainable big brand.
In terms of priority, I first look for products that are cruelty-free. This means anything that is CFI/CCIC cruelty-free certified with the Leaping Bunny Logo or has been vetted by me to be cruelty-free after doing my own research or speaking with the brand owner.
The product should not have wasteful packaging. Instead, having FSC-certified, upcycled or single use packaging is a bonus and recyclable materials with a low carbon footprint. The ingredients should be sustainably and, if applicable, fairly sourced with fair labor practices. If the brand is part of a larger company, green operations are favored. Any b-certified corporations or local brands are a plus, and help to whittle this list down even further.Take the headache out of green shopping with this breakthrough new app via @ConscienceMy! Click To Tweet
Next, the product must be clean-ingredient, meaning, even if not all natural (though this is ideal) it must contain ingredients that are not questionable in terms of safety and research. I will often consult the EWG Skin Deep database for this – not to look up a product, but the ratings on each of its ingredients. The context of ingredient use, certainty of data and other factors go into the rating of each ingredient and I always take this into account, plus look for my own primary research sources. I also look to be sure the ingredients are vegan; it’s important the products contain no animal-derived ingredients versus just being cruelty-free; some shoppers forget, that these are two separate things.
Prior to assessing performance, I make sure that the brand operates independently from an animal-testing or non-eco-minded parent, meaning it is not owned by a big brand with these types of operations or is contractually operating independently under its own set of values.
Sometimes I will find a product I am super excited about and then I try to find challengers based on better ingredients or performance. I can assess this by simply researching and examining others reviews without testing out every single product. If I can’t find a challenger, then I am confident to recommend the product (after testing it myself). A great example of this was finding Gabriel Cosmetics’ Eye Primer, which had the cleanest ingredients of any other primers I had tried and researched, along with my other criteria.
Other times, it’s the reverse situation – in that I have to scour everywhere (primary research outlets, specialized retailers or conferences, trusted bloggers or experts) to find an alternative to a very popular or routinely used product. An example of this was when I finally found an alternative to Kiwi shoe polish from a family run company that only sold its product on its website and Etsy. I had to do a lot more due diligence than usual since it was such a little known brand with little visibility in the public domain. Then I spoke with the brand owners extensively to make sure they met my criteria and had to wait longer than usual for the product to be shipped. However, these lesser known products are the valuable nuggets people look for when turning to the app.
Finally, there are broad product categories that I look at and also many subcategories. When there is a dizzying amount of products in a subcategory, it is certainly challenging. This is especially true for the subcategories in cosmetics and personal care. For example, for mascara – in this subcategory alone there is typically not a one size fits all product. Some consumers want a lengthening or separating mascara, some want volume-enhancing or a gentle product for sensitive eyes/contact lens wear. So I look up the best brands via Allure magazine’s Best of Beauty app, research other reader reviews and rankings, and find a comparable substitute. The research takes quite a while and the result will probably be forever changing. But the feedback is always that it has been great to have these specific product alternatives. So, please know that if you don’t see a recommendation for a popular product, it may be because we are in deep sea of evaluation!
I always look for products that will add value to the average person’s daily routine. So, some features on the site may seem less exciting (e.g., multi-purpose solution for contact lenses) but substituting these types of products that we don’t think much about but use on a daily or routine basis will make the biggest impact!
Finally, when companies approach me about a recommendation, I am very careful to be tempered about promising a review. I do not consider myself a blogger in the traditional sense, more as an information resource. Usually, though, I meet fantastic brands that are worth recommending and it is all about finding out what their best selling product is, then comparing it with what’s already out there, if anything should exist. If nothing exists, then it’s certainly a winner for consideration at least!
I am always monitoring corporate ownership as well as staying abreast of ingredient research studies and updating and changing recommendations accordingly. Making sure that my recommendations are constantly quality controlled is a job I take very seriously. This said, I always appreciate (and seek) feedback to keep me on my toes.
What are absolute “never” ingredients and which ones make it to your list sometimes?
Never ingredients are the usual – parabens, phthalates or anything petroleum-related or carcinogenic, like talc. No synthetic fragrances, even if billed “natural”. And of course, no animal-derived ingredients like glycerins, allantoin, tallow or goat milk (often used in soap), etc. In food, no dairy, egg or gelatin. Often, it’s such a challenge to find minimally processed vegan food substitutes – for the usual store bought fare anyway. So when I do, and it tastes great, I’m ecstatic and want to tell the world! An example of this is Neat® meat replacement mix which is a brilliant alternative in terms of production, shelf life and taste. It’s a mixture that you can mix with either an egg or egg substitute. Either way, the result and taste is equally amazing.
In terms of what ingredients make it sometimes: This would be beeswax and palm oil (though I always look for sustainably sourced) as well as essential oils that may not be organic, though organic is absolutely preferable. However, this is only the case if the best performing product (with the best production, possibly local, etc.) is far better than a popular, big-brand alternative and contains one or more of these ingredients. So, if this is the case, then that product will be a recommendation until a better product comes to market.
After launching, I pulled W3LL People’s Nudist Colorbalm No.2. from the app as a substitute for Clinique’s Almost Lipstick in Black Honey since it had carmine (a.k.a. crushed bugs) for color. I had found this to be the best product in terms of the brand’s ethics and similar product performance, which includes having the similar coloring as this long-time best-selling product and shade. However it was not cruelty-free given this ingredient. W3ll People has since changed this source of color (kudos!) to come from manganese violet so it is back on the app. However, the Universalist Stick in a similar shade still has carmine so that is on hold as a substitute recommendation for NARS The Multiple in Kama Sutra. It is always a challenge to readily find plum shades without carmine (known chemically as Red #4 or C.I. 75470 or E120) but they do in fact exist. Delizioso and Kjaer Weiss immediately come to mind because they have great lip colors as well in this shade.
I bet you could teach us a whole lot about research and manufacturing processes. If you could tell us some of the surprising discoveries that you made along the way that would help us? What would those 2-3 tips (or more) be?
It certainly has been eye-opening working with so many brands that are pioneering in their field! However, there are some of which I’ve had to turn down or distance myself from. As such, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. The top ones that jump out at me are:
- Vegan doesn’t mean cruelty free
- Vegan or cruelty free doesn’t mean clean-ingredient
- All preservatives are not bad, some are good (especially depending on intended use and shelf life expectation of the product)
- Small batch may mean different things to different people
- Avoid anything “fragranced”, unless essential-oil based, preferably organic
In a few lines, could you fill us in on the best way to use the CHOICE App. Is it available on all mobile devices?
I like to think of CHOICE as the holy grail of all the other apps out there helping us make better choices. (It looks up clean ingredients like EWG’s Skin Deep and Think Dirty, looks up cruelty-free status like The Leaping Bunny app, BNB (“Be Nice to Bunnies”) and Cruelty Cutter, looks up production practices like Good Guide and HowGood, looks up conflict of ownership like Buycott, and THEN adds on product performance to obtain one choice to take action on.) Simply scan a “bad” product and the app will recognize the product or product category and provide an alternative to purchase instead, with bulleted reasons why the product is better. Or, search or browse for a product or product category and you will get a list of viable alternatives. In addition to all this, the app informs you about where to buy the product either locally at a retailer or provides a link to direct your purchase immediately online within the app. So, you can take clear action to make the right choice, right away.
Right now the app is still only available for iOS but we are hoping to launch a campaign for funding on the Android platform. We have a lot of people waiting for this!
What’s your ultimate long-term goal in creating My Conscience, My Choice and what do you hope that visitors to your website and app walk away with?
In terms of the consumer’s experience: It’s so easy to start making better choices. The landscape is now far and wide with better, more sustainably produced alternatives, in beauty, personal care and household products as well as food, which was the pioneer movement that really got people thinking. The average consumer just need a compass and the CHOICE app serves as that tool for the mindful consumer.
In terms of the brand’s experience: I want the entire My Conscience, My Choice platform to serve as a tool for exposure for market disruptive, pioneering companies with breakthrough products (especially the local ones)! Often products from these locally emerging brands are not widely available…they may be only at local retailers, only sold online at a single retailer (for example, some are only sold on Etsy). But this is the case with many pioneering companies. Hopefully though, after starting small, with the proper tool like the CHOICE app to inform the right customers and help them easily buy these products, adoption will increase rapidly. If My Conscience, My Choice and the CHOICE app helps their scale-up and sales efforts then we all win via better visibility!
I appreciate being able to discuss the My Conscience, My Choice website and app as well as the recommendation process. I hope that readers make sure to visit out our brand new website and download the CHOICE app, which now has many more products alternatives recommended that have gone live this month. It’s our goal to make it easier for shoppers with a conscience to pick the right products.
Amen to that!
P.S. Check out my collab with Formula Botanica about the seven questions green beauty bloggers should ask artisans. It is chock-full of valuable info.