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Not such a Yuka idea: The French app that could change the way you shop

Cans of Olipop, a soda containing botanicals, plant fibers, and prebiotics, are shown at a Kroger supermarket, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Marietta, Ga.
Cans of Olipop, a soda containing botanicals, plant fibers, and prebiotics, are shown at a Kroger supermarket, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Marietta, Ga. Copyright Mike Stewart/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Mike Stewart/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Indrabati Lahiri
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Yuka is an app developed to help consumers learn more about ingredients in food and cosmetic products that might be harmful. However, it needs to be considered in the context of the complete ingredient list.

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Yuka, a French food and cosmetics rating app has recently taken consumers by storm as it shows shoppers what's in their food and personal care products. The app is seen to have the potential to influence the way people shop, by highlighting any carcinogens, allergens, irritants and endocrine disruptors that may be present in groceries and cosmetics.

Along with providing ratings and ingredient analysis for different products, Yuka also provides healthier suggestions for food items.

The app is being especially welcomed at a time when some food items, such as some baby food, have been found to contain harmful ingredients such as mercury and other heavy metals.

Cosmetics such as lipsticks, perfume and anti-ageing creams, among others have also come under fire for containing dangerous ingredients such as formaldehyde, coal tar, benzene, mineral oils, arsenic, chromium, silica and heavy metals.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, MD Anderson Cancer Center professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program, said, as reported by Anderson Cancer Center: "There are concerns with beauty products that contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals may interfere with your hormonal system.

"While a direct link between EDCs and cancer is not yet definitive, certain cancers are hormonally-driven.

"EDCs like phthalates and parabens are in most personal care products. And, what comes in contact with your skin absorbs into your circulatory system, potentially affecting your hormone and immune system."

Regarding cancer-causing ingredients in beauty products, Cohen says: "Even a low dose should cause concern, especially if you use the product every day." It is believed that hormones are a big factor behind ovarian, breast, prostate and endometrial cancers.

One French resident, who lives with her family, said: "We live in France, where I generally trust food producers and cosmetics brands. I have to admit I never doubted the ones I was buying and didn't even read or translate the labels to check whether or not I was right.

"My husband introduced me to this app four or five years ago and I was really surprised by it. Also, because of the app, I've started educating myself by looking further into the ingredients of the products I buy.

"I don't know for sure if this app is the answer for everything, but it's helped me to make better informed choices and I imagine it could do the same for other people.

"I think - and I hope - it has the potential to transform the market, so that customers will end up buying products that offer them only the best of ingredients."

How much should you rely on Yuka?

Although Yuka can be very useful in gaining some more understanding and visibility on the nature of common, but potentially harmful ingredients used in food products and cosmetics, it can sometimes cause confusion and anxiety. As such, it can be a little difficult to know where to draw the line, when it comes to using the app.

This is due to several of the ingredients flagged by the app, such as phenoxyethanol, which are actually often used in many products. That could make the consumer wonder why they have been approved, if the buyer is being told the ingredient is harmful. Some ingredients are considered safe in low dosages, something the app does not necessarily recognise. 

Yuka highlights the presence of these ingredients but it is left up to the user to investigate what is an acceptable quantity and what is too much. Another issue is that some of the ingredients are flagged as "suspected endocrine disruptors", even though no conclusive research has proved that this is indeed the case.

Yuka also does not differentiate between good ingredients and safe ingredients. This means that although an ingredient in a cosmetic product might be technically safe, it may not be useful or effective in the product at all. On the other hand, other ingredients, such as salicylic acid, which might prove to be an irritant or a little drying to some people can be flagged, however, may still be very required and effective in the product, if used in moderation.

Other ingredients, such as liquid microplastics miss out on the toxic or risky tag, leaving users oblivious of their potential dangers.

Thus, although Yuka can certainly be very helpful on your journey to be more aware as a consumer, individual research and considering ingredients in the context of the entire product formula is key to leveraging the benefits of the app.

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What are some alternatives to Yuka?

Yuka is not the only app of its kind on the market. Several other apps - including Think Dirty - are on the hunt for dangerous beauty ingredients. The app focuses particularly on hormone disruptors across both organic and natural ingredients in cosmetics, as well as chemical ones. Similarly to Yuka, Think Dirty also suggests healthier alternatives to the cosmetics that you scan.

Another option is Open Food Facts, an open data food products database, which tells you the ingredients, nutrition facts, allergens and more for more than 3,000,000 products. Consumers can add products and missing information directly to the database, with the platform currently having more than 100,000 contributors from more than 150 countries. Open Food Facts also allows product comparisons between different brands, helping you make healthier choices.

EWG's Healthy Living app is another similar enterprise, scanning and rating more than 120,000 food and personal care products, and suggesting better alternatives. The company also has similar guides for pesticides in produce, as well as to determine the quality of your tap water and home cleaning products.

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