Alum wants you to detoxify your beauty cabinet, takes her app to CBC’s Dragons’ Den

Lily Tse pitches her app on Dragons' Den
Alum Lily Tse recently pitched her app, which detects toxic ingredients in beauty products, on CBC's Dragons' Den. (Photo courtesy: Lily Tse)

Tina Adamopoulos

Lily Tse wants you to think dirty and buy clean.

The U of T Scarborough alum started thinking about the chemicals in personal care and beauty products after her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. She did some digging into what exactly goes into these products and found that many carried less than ideal ingredients.

“At that point, I thought it might be a good idea to develop a tool for other consumers to be aware of potential harmful ingredients in their personal care and beauty products,” says Tse, (BA, 2001), founder and CEO of Think Dirty.

Think Dirty is a free app that allows you to scan your favourite products to test just how clean of toxins they actually are. The goal is to get people thinking about what they put on their skin and buy cleaner products.

Tse recently took her pitch to CBC’s Dragons’ Den. The reality series challenges entrepreneurs to pitch their business to a panel of venture capitalists in the hopes of making a deal –– which she did.

At the end of her pitch, Tse made a deal with two dragons, Michele Romanow and Lane Merrifield.

“It’s a very exciting journey for us to be on such a well-watched show in Canada,” she says. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to be exposed to a greater audience.”

The Think Dirty app has a database of more than 500,000 cosmetics and personal care products. But what constitutes a dirty ingredient? Tse says that dirty ingredients are usually ones that bring on hormonal disruptions or allergies.

With a quick scan the app’s “Dirty Meter” will grade the ingredients –– red means dirty, yellow means it’s somewhat OK and green means clean. You can also get information on the ingredient itself, like what it’s used for within the product and its health impacts.

“Sometimes people are misled by words like ‘natural’ and our tool is for people who don’t have a strong chemical background to make an informed decision,” Tse explains.

Another feature, called “My Bathroom Shelf,” lets you visualize where your favourite products stand on the scale. You can also purchase cleaner products directly from the app.

Tse began to build her business six years ago by entering competitions, applying for government grants and approaching various business incubators. The app has been used by celebrities and has been featured in various publications.

Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Resilience is important. Raising capital isn’t a given, and is definitely not expected in your early stages.

Perhaps most importantly, Tse advises, “Treat people nice and with respect, you never know which connections will help you."