Yes, you read that right. Can we please stop villainizing chemicals? I see it daily…literally dozens of times per day. I get correspondence asking if my products are free of this or do they contain that because the person has been led to believe that its inherently bad, harmful, toxic. Sometimes, I get anger or accusation thrown at me about various ingredients I use or info I give about them somewhere. More often than not, it’s all rooted in fear and a lack of knowledge and understanding. It’s fueled by many, be it ordinary everyday people who may have good intentions but possess little knowledge and understanding or those who are trying to sell you something and they are using the buzz words of the hour. Responsibility lies heavily with special interest groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), their Skin Deep database and website, and the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics (CFSC) who have masterfully and falsely marketed themselves as leaders and experts in the areas of product safety and science. I could go into great detail about these organizations but I’ll save that for another day.
Chemicals get a bad rap simply because they are misunderstood and have negative connotations attached to them, usually unjustly. You’ll hopefully see what I mean soon. My intention is not to criticize anyone so please forgive me if it sounds that way at any time. The intention is to get you to thinking and hopefully learning. This is a long article because I have a lot to say on the topic and I don’t know how to condense it into a nice, short quick clip. So please hang with me through its entirety.
Let’s go straight to the most villainized word in my industry and the communities I frequent. CHEMICALS. Oh my gosh….NOOO! Not chemicals! Have you seen someone use the word “chemical(s)” like it’s an atomic bomb set to detonate at any moment, totally ominous and without a doubt signifying impending doom? Or the phrases “chemical free”, “nasty chemicals”, or other negative attachments to the word “chemical(s)”? Maybe you use the word in this way yourself. I used to. Well folks, if you plan on living a life without chemicals, there’s a few things you’ll need to know. You’ll have to stop wearing clothes, shoes and jewelry of any kind. You’ll need to give up sitting on your nice comfy couch, sleeping in your warm cozy bed and owning or using any technological equipment (Smart phone, anyone?). You should stop driving, bathing, enjoying recreational activities, having sex (GASP!), and having babies. You’ll also need to stop using essential oils, deodorant, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, hair brushes, razors, colored make-up and every grooming item you use on a daily basis. You should also avoid eating or drinking because those veggies, meats, fruits, grains, teas, coffee (OMG!), libations and such are loaded with chemicals. Oh yeah, you better stop breathing too. While you’re at it, just stop existing altogether because the human body is the largest and most complex chemical factory known to man.
That may sound sarcastic but it’s not intended to be. It’s intended to get your attention and clue you in. The fact of the matter is there is not one single thing in existence that is not composed of chemicals. Basic elementary science, right? Apparently not because people use and react to the word “chemical” like it’s a weapon of mass destruction hell-bent on destroying us. And before anyone says “I mean harmful chemicals.” let me point out that every chemical in existence has the potential to be harmful.
Case in point. To someone with an allergy to a food, plant, natural substance, element, environmental substance, or man-made substance, direct or indirect exposure to or consuming that substance can cause mild to severe reactions to skin or respiratory system. They may cause physical illness, mental/emotional distress or even result in death. Does that make all these chemicals and substances bad, harmful or toxic? No. It just means they are harmful to the ones these chemicals and substances pose a potential risk to individually. The chemicals and substances themselves are not problematic. It’s the reactionary response of the person’s body that makes them problematic….FOR THE INDIVIDUAL. Why? Because of that person’s body chemistry (Oops…chemicals again.) and how their body responds to certain substances. It’s not a universal issue and concern across the board for everyone. And even with those who do have allergies, it may be dependent on totality and type of exposure and dosage. A little may be fine while a lot may not be. Physical contact may be an issue while secondary presence or exposure may not be.
Let’s look at a couple of chemicals you may never have considered could pose a risk. Our bodies need oxygen (O2) to function. Without it, we die. And yet pure oxygen is extremely flammable. In confined spaces, it can ignite or explode with a single spark. Pure oxygen, when inhaled at high percentages, can cause dizziness, headaches, etc. or when inhaled for extended periods of time can cause physical respiratory dependence. But, I don’t avoid breathing because oxygen poses a risk in some situations. I don’t steer clear of visiting with my dad who is on oxygen due to health, advise him to ditch his O2 or stay away from hospitals or health care facilities because oxygen will be present and in use. I don’t refuse surgery when needed because I will be given pure oxygen. No, I make sure I follow precautions and don’t contribute to an accident when I’m around oxygen in use. I trust the professionals to know more than me, follow safe protocols and keep the risks at a minimum when it’s out of my hands.
How about this horrible chemical? Dihydrogen monoxide, also known as DHMO, hydrogen hydroxide and hydrogen oxide among other names. There’s been a campaign afoot for a few years to get this chemical banned because of its risks and dangers. Folks…listen up. Dihydrogen monoxide is…….wait for it. Water! Plain ole’ H2O! I think we all know our bodies need water to live and function. Without it, we eventually die. But water is one of the most dangerous chemical compounds in existence, responsible for thousands of deaths and a high rate of loss every year. Water is one of the leading causes of death to humans and animals from drownings. Water intoxication occurs when too much is consumed in a short time span. Severe illness or death can happen from contamination and microbial growth, which water encourages and gladly provides a cozy environment for. The damage to property from flooding or from water leaks in a home or business climbs into the millions in monetary and emotional costs each year. Then there is its frozen versions….ice and snow and the injury, loss of life and property those cause. We mustn’t forget water in its gaseous form. As steam, water can cause burns ranging from 1st to 4th degree, the latter of which can result in loss of limbs or even sometimes death. But how many don’t bathe/shower, do laundry, drink water or avoid water sports and recreation because of the potential harm with water? Does anyone refuse indoor plumbing because it may cause damage? Do you know someone who avoids snow, ice, ice skating, hockey or ice cubes at all costs because of potential harm? How about anyone who refuses to cook, boil water or use steam when ironing clothing, removing wallpaper, etc. because water in gaseous form can burn them? I don’t know anyone who does any of these things and I don’t do them.
Now, let’s look at a couple of chemicals you may see on a product label. Because it’s a common one, we’ll take a look at glyceryl stearate. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? What if I told you glyceryl stearate is created in a lab? Uh Oh…a lab. Lab equals synthetic equals unsafe or toxic. Hmm…not so fast. Glyceryl stearate is a white or cream-colored wax-like substance used in the personal care, food and drug industries. It’s the result of the esterification of glycerin and stearic acid. It other words, it’s made by intentionally reacting glycerin, a simple polyol compound found in all lipids known as triglycerides, with stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid with a long carbon chain found in animal and vegetable fats, to create an ester. Since glycerin and stearic acid, both natural substances, are not likely to hook up in nature, scientists and lab technicians help them meet and marry to become the chemical compound known as glyceryl stearate. In cosmetics, it’s used as a skin lubricant, a surfactant, a thickening agent and to help form or stabilize an emulsion. It’s considered chemically benign, non-toxic and useful when used properly. A little less scary now?
Another chemical you may see on a label is linalool. Linalool is a commonly seen chemical constituent, classified as a terpene alcohol, found in over 200 plants. It’s a key component in many essential oils including lavender, orange, coriander, rose and rosewood. It presents therapeutic properties such as anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic/anticonvulsant, sedative and anxiolytic, and analgesic. It’s often used in fragrance oils. Linalool can be found in as much as 60-80% of the scented personal care/hygiene products and cleaning agents found on the market, including soaps, shampoos, lotions and detergents and is usually used for fragrance, be that fragrance from essential oils or fragrance oils. It also may be used as a chemical intermediate. Linalool is sometimes used by pest professionals as an insecticide against fleas, fruit flies and cockroaches. It is also used as a mosquito-repellent in some products, although its efficacy for the claims to repel mosquitoes may not be supported with evidential data. Overall, linalool a highly beneficial chemical, that does present some risks just as any chemical can. And yet EWG/Skin Deep gives it a hazard rating of 5 and states its use is restricted in cosmetics. They fail to tell you the “restrictions” are actually the maximum safe dilution recommendations set by the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) for all essential oils and fragrance oils or possible isolates of linalool or that those recommendations vary by the various product types. This simply means the essential oils and fragrance oils have safety limitations (What doesn’t have limitations?) and need to be diluted to the recommended percentages for skin contact to reduce the risk of dermal irritation, reactions and sensitization. The IFRA also gives max recommendations for percentages when used in candles, wax melts and other home fragrancing products. They have tested and assessed the safe limits for this application on many levels, including potential reactions when inhaled, flash points and fire hazards, EWG states linalool MAY present concerns of being a human immune system toxicant or allergen, citing 1,720 studies on PubMed as evidence or information regarding toxicity. But when you click on their search link, the search page on PubMed clearly states the quoted phrases they used for the search were not found. Hmmm! Omission of facts and misguided facts? I think so.
As you can see, substances thought to be benign or “100% natural” have risks and can be extremely dangerous….under the right circumstances. Likewise, chemicals that seem ominous or that are lab-created can be completely safe and non-threatening, when used correctly. In most cases, the risks with any chemical lies in the amount and/or the type of exposure plus other factors that come into play and the reactions or effects that MIGHT occur. As you may have heard me and others say, “The poison is in the dose.”. That’s not just a catchy phrase or excuse. It’s truth and fact. When you get into the ppm (parts per million) and ppb (parts per billion) of chemicals and their safety, the game changes considerably, be it in relation to exposure in or on the human body or environmentally.
Ultimately, “chemicals” are not the villain. Our lack of knowledge and understanding about them is. The misinformation and pseudo-science being spread about them is. Stop assuming “chemicals” are bad, lab-created or synthetic substances are toxic or being afraid of them. It’s very easy to fear what we don’t understand or know anything about. That’s what the fearmongerers count on. They rely on people taking their word for it and NEVER digging into the science all while growing and furthering chemophobia. Listen, they literally bank on the general public trusting the fake and intentionally misinterpreted versions of science they themselves put out over the airwaves. They rely on consumers believing they have our best interests at heart. They don’t, but they want us to think they do. They attempt to convince people they have an inside track to the truth, while everyone else is lying to them, especially companies, both large and small and government entities. Sound familiar? They emphasize to us they have done the work for us and are explaining it in simple terms we can understand. Do you realize when they do this, they are essentially saying, “Hey, you’re too stupid and dumb to read, learn and understand these things so you NEED us to do it for you.”? You know…..because they are so much smarter and intellectually equipped than you and I.
I propose that instead of walking in fear, avoiding “chemicals” or spreading fear and misinformation, we all research and educate ourselves. They say “Information is king.” and “Knowledge/Information is power!”. I personally disagree with both of these sayings. I say facts and information pave the way for actually learning so one has educated and experiential knowledge, which adds to wisdom. Wisdom lends a hand in us making better decisions and having better experiences. For the record, memorizing information is not really learning, y’all. If you don’t know why the information is factual, have no experience to go with it and can’t defend it with a rational and sound evidence-based debate, you haven’t learned it and it’s not real knowledge to you. You’re merely parroting or reciting memorized information, that may or may not be accurate. And you don’t know if it’s accurate or not, because you didn’t do your homework.
I strongly encourage everyone to invest some time in learning about chemicals in general and also specifically. Find out what that chemical is in that product and when or even if it becomes problematic and a risk to you or your family. Learn a little more about how the body and skin actually functions, processes and reacts. Please, don’t do your research using EWG or CFSC sites or blogs influenced by them. Go to real science sites and literature. Look through peer-reviewed studies and unbiased research papers. Go beyond the abstract, opinion and anecdotal. Don’t stop with one source or reference. Check out industry organizations and their sites and references. Look to true experts and professionals in the field, those with substantial education, training and experience in the industries of cosmetics, personal and home care products, the food industry, chemistry, biology, anatomy and other sciences. Compare what you read and look for actual science-based evidence. Then come to your own conclusions to make your own reasonable decisions and choices based on facts, not fear and lack of understanding. Be informed. Be empowered. Don’t be influenced, needlessly ignorant or entrenched in trendiness, fads, marketing hoopla and innuendo. That is if you really want to learn and be truly informed and empowered. If you don’t, then that’s your choice.
So again I will say…….Please stop villainizing chemicals because you perceive them wrongly, don’t understand or haven’t researched intently through reputable and reliable resources. That’s taking the easy way out and ultimately is allowing yourself to be controlled by others or by your own feelings and needs you may not even realize are fueling your choices and thoughts.
Alright, I’ve been on my soapbox long enough and kept you far to long. Please think about what I’ve said here today. All of it. It may not be popular or even welcomed, but it is coming from my heart and out of concern for people being misled with the massive overload of misinformation, untruths and half truths I see every day. It’s because I want you empowered….really empowered to do what is right for you and yours because when you know better, when you know the facts, the consistent and verifiable truths, you can do better. Untruths and half truths do not help you do better. If something isn’t true, completely true, then it’s false. To put it plainly, it’s a lie. Whether it’s told intentional or because of misguided information, it’s still a lie because it’s not true. Lies are not better. Lies are just…LIES. Don’t live your life or base your choices on lies. OK?
As always, until next time….Enjoy The Ahh Moments! Please feel free to share this article, comment if you like and let’s all attempt to know better and do better.