Truth Serum: Taking a Look at the Validity of Chemical Free Claims
As a biologist, aromatherapist, and mom of two, the health and safety of my family as well as the planet that provides everything we need for life is important to me.
And as a scientist truth and transparency is important to me.
The reason I'm writing this post is a post I scrolled across a skincare post on Instagram touting that they created their brand because there were "zero existing skincare brands that are completely chemical free" along with other claims such as not diluting their products with water or filler and that they give visible long term results.
When I see claims like this I am concerned. Why?
Because they make me believe that the company, the founder, the formulator, the marketing team know little about science and what is going on in the cosmetic industry.
They make me think that they are using an AI generator to mindlessly create their marketing campaign without investigating the truth of science or what other brands are doing to create innovate, thoughtful products.
Let's break down these claims.
Yes it's true that there are zero brands that can claim to be "chemical free" because everything is made of chemicals.
Water is a chemical. Fructose found in fruit is a chemical. Coconut oil is made of chemicals. You are full of chemicals. Chemicals make up everything around us. They can be natural, naturally derived, nature identical, or synthetic. But the truth is everything is made up of chemicals.
Perhaps the brand is trying to say they don't use "harmful chemicals" or "petrochemicals"? But let me give you an example of chemicals we find in nature.
I recently submitted an article about an essential oil and hydrosol distilled from the wood of a tree found in Ecuador and other nearby regions.
An interesting fact about the oil is that it contains aromatic compounds that are considered hepatotoxic and given a dermal use limit.
This natural product contains "chemicals" that can potentially be harmful to the liver. Should I be afraid? Should I raise alarms on social media?
I say no. It's a beautiful essential oil that is safe to use and scientists have suggested we keep its topical use to about 3% to avoid it affecting liver enzymes that may compromise our liver.
And the same care and concern goes into cosmetic ingredients that are approved for use.
Whether you're using avocado oil and essential oils or an emulsifier or preservative approved for cosmetic use -- they are all chemicals and if approved for use in cosmetics by regulatory bodies they are considered safe.
And if you weren't paying attention is science class and don't know that everything is made of chemicals, molecules, and atoms I'm not so sure I trust your judgement. Just saying...
And as per claim number two about "fillers", if you're keeping up with the times you've most likely noticed the influx of innovative waterless bar products -- everything from shampoo and conditioner bars, to solid serums, lotion bars, and even CO2 sequestering soaps.
And let's talk about results. A good cosmetic formulator or cosmetic chemist knows that cosmetics improve the appearance of the skin or hair and they are not therapeutic drugs.
Any claims that are made must be verified. That means the use of a cosmetic actives that have been scientifically tested and shown to have results such as skin lightening or improving the appearance of fine lines or the testing of the product itself. And if you don't have data or use an active ingredient you can't make valid claims. Even if you think your product is the cat's meow.
So my charge to consumers is to question the emotional marketing claims, to question the "free from" claims and seek truth and transparency from the companies that supply your products. Look for data. Look at the ingredient list. Ask questions and look for brands that have people who are trained in cosmetic chemistry, aromatherapy, and science.
I think you'd be surprised to learn how hard scientists are working to creating products and packaging that are green, sustainable, and cost effective.
And where there are complex problems, the solution is equally complex. For example, does it make sense to pour energy and resources into growing a plant to create an ingredient when it may be more sustainable and energy efficient to create a nature identical ingredient?
My charge to formulators and brands is to stop making vague or meaningless claims and start working to truly innovate and find your niche. All cosmetic products contain chemicals, natural ingredients can also contain harmful chemicals such, and synthetic (especially when nature identical) ingredients are not necessarily harmful.
Stop misleading consumers and brush up on your scientific knowledge.
What are your thoughts as a consumer or formulator?