The Chemical-Free Myth

chemical-free mythThis post is going to be short. And very rant-like, prompted by the millionth article I saw this week on the wonders of going chemical-free.

As in using chemical-free beauty products, trying chemical-free cleaning products, and generally living a blissful chemical-free life.

It made me kind of angry. Again.

Because “chemical-free” is not a real thing.

It simply does not exist.

The food you’re eating is made up of chemicals. Pure water is made up of chemicals. The air you’re breathing is made up of chemicals. You are composed of chemical compounds. A chemical is simply any substance made of matter. You know what is chemical-free? Energy or light.

Chemical-free is thus only a marketing claim, building on people’s fears of mysterious toxins, poisons, and diseases and making them buy supposedly cleaner and better products.

I don’t have anything against a let’s just call it ‘more natural’ lifestyle. There are some ingredients I avoid, some fabrics I never buy, some food and additives I never eat, because I don’t trust them either.

That doesn’t mean that anything natural is perfect and anything synthetic is the work of the devil. Or that chemical and natural are mutually exclusive things. And suggesting otherwise just leads to public misunderstanding of basic science as well as an increased susceptibility to fear-mongering and pseudo-scientific misleading marketing claims.

Let’s stay on firm grounds.

I know what regular people mean when they talk about chemical-free anything. They use it as a synonym to natural, clean, safe, even organic. It’s not a great choice of word, but I know they don’t mean anything bad by it.

However, it’s more problematic when brands use it – it makes me very distrustful. Either because they have no basic scientific knowledge and have no idea what they are talking about (in this case thanks, but I’m not going to trust your product) or because they hop on this marketing bandwagon and deliberately try to deceive people by greenwashing and claiming that chemical-free is the only way to go. In that case, I don’t trust the brand, period.

Especially in the currently very gray, confusing, and kind of unregulated area of natural products, this is a very important issue and should be discussed a lot more regularly. We deserve accuracy and not this misleading marketing bullshit.

For now, please join me in distrusting any brand who speaks of chemical-free products.
chemical-free myth

chemical free myth
chemical free myth

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4 Comments

  1. November 28, 2017 / 9:32 PM

    I love this rant and the term Greenwashing! As a scientist and a woman, I’m particularly frustrated by this weird trend toward the mindset that if you don’t know how to pronounce an ingredient it’s not good for you. First of all, I can pronounce pretty much every chemical term out there due to my background, and second all ‘natural ingredients’ have some form of chemical-sounding name. Because, as you said, everything is chemicals!

    I immediately mistrust a product that says chemical-free too.

    • November 28, 2017 / 9:51 PM

      Thank you so much for this, I’m so glad I’m not alone with this opinion. I’m not a scientist by any means and it still annoys me a lot. This is the reason I dislike marketing so much sometimes, it’s disgusting how they play on people’s fear and maybe lack of knowledge. This is especially rampant in the food and beauty industries, but I’m glad I see more and more people stand up against it.

      ps: do you know The Beauty Brains podcast/blog? They are trying to answer all kinds of beauty questions from a science perspective and highlight the truth behind marketing claims. It’s very interesting.

  2. December 4, 2017 / 4:02 AM

    I’ve been moving towards more natural beauty products whenever possible but I dint think of it that way – everything is made of CHEMICALS! Duh! ha! So simple!

    I think that a lot of people get caught up in the branding and marketing but then when you start digging, the brands that you think are more natural in fact aren’t!!

    http://www.elleisforlove.com

    • December 4, 2017 / 8:15 PM

      Yes, this whole natural beauty thing is very gray and largely unregulated and a lot of brands unfortunately take advantage of this.

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