Whenever I spot a cosmetic product that claims to be chemical free I am always dubious. Either the company doesn’t have a basic understanding of chemistry or they are trying to mislead their customers.
So let’s go back to basics and start with what we learned or should have learned at school. What is a chemical anyway? In short everything is a chemical. The water we drink is a chemical, the air we breathe is a chemical and we are surrounded by chemicals every single day of our lives.
However, there does seem to be a growing trend to associate the word chemical with bad and nasty substances that will harm us. In an article in The Guardian the scientist Dr Peter Wothers says that the word 'chemicals' is being misused to mean something harmful or unnatural and wants people to understand that chemistry is how we all interact with the world.
A participant on one of my soap making courses told me that she wants to avoid all chemicals as they are bad for us. When I pointed out that water is a chemical she was really shocked and simply wouldn’t believe it! I advised her politely to Google H2O.
Type chemical free beauty in a Google search and it will return over 20 million results. I was even surprised to find an article in The Telegraph called The Green Guide to Chemical Free Beauty which only serves to confuse the public rather than educate.
Chemistry is pretty important in our everyday lives as without it we wouldn’t be here. We are made of chemicals, so is the sun which is necessary for growing the food that we eat which also happens to be made up of chemicals.
Admittedly chemistry can seem pretty daunting and conjures up images of mad scientists in white coats toiling away over their crazy concoctions!
It’s not all about laboratories and test tubes. Believe it or not we create some basic chemical reactions going about our daily lives such as making a cup of tea, cooking food and washing ourselves.
Washing your hands with soap is a great example of everyday chemistry as it’s something that we all do (hopefully)! The reason that soap cleans so well is because it is made up of molecules with two different ends. One end loves water (hydrophilic) and one end hates water (hydrophobic). It is this love/hate relationship that works so well because the hydrophobic end attaches to the grime which is then washed away by the molecules that are in love with the water!
As you can see chemistry is all about the interactions of matter with other matter and the study and use of these interactions to form new substances. There are various branches of chemistry including cosmetic chemistry which involves combining ingredients to perform a certain function such as moisturising your skin. The end product can be made up of natural ingredients or a combination of natural and synthetic ingredients, all of which are chemicals.
The market for natural beauty products is increasing year on year and consumers are demanding a more natural way of living but that doesn’t equate to chemical free as that is a huge misconception.
So now you know that it’s mission impossible to live a chemical free life let alone have a chemical free beauty routine. What you need to be looking out for instead are synthetic chemical ingredients that are potentially bad for your skin e.g. SLS is a known skin irritant or ingredients that have undesirable effects on your body e.g. parabens are a hormone disruptor. You can read about these and more in my previous blog post here.