There's No Such Thing As "Chemical Free"

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Hello dear friends!

I know this topic may (or may not, who knows!) be tough for some people to hear, but it’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time, and I felt like it needed to be put out there. I feel like I should apologize in advance for what may be a rant, so just hang in here with me! I don’t rant often, but when I do, it’s (usually) for a good reason.

So, there’s this term. This new, marketing-based phrase that makes me cringe every time I hear it.

“Chemical-free.”

You’ve probably seen it in advertising, or mentioned on a blog, or even labeled on a product that you love. I personally see this phrase splashed all over ads targeted at “people like me,” aka people who are conscious of the things they put on their bodies and in their homes. Although I may be a bonafide hippie, and live what many would consider to be a very “crunchy” lifestyle, I can’t stand bad science.

For those who don’t already know, I have a science degree (physiology), and worked in laboratory research for many years. I’ve been a nerd for as long as I can remember. I was the kid that was downright ECSTATIC about school starting, and would spend my free time poring over my encyclopedia set on my bedroom floor. I love science, I love learning, and most of all, I love when people take the initiative to educate themselves about issues in the world today. What I don’t love? The rampant anti-intellectualism that seems to have taken over the health and wellness industry.

It seems (not surprising in our polarized world) like there are two extremes here. Either people are so devoted to science and peer-reviewed research, that they can’t open their minds to possibilities outside the strictly quantifiable. Or, people have thrown out science and research altogether, citing some crazy government conspiracies, and mistrusting everything they hear. People like me are caught in the middle, and it definitely sucks sometimes.

I totally understand what people are trying to go for with the term, “chemical free.” I really do. And I’m ALL for having clean, safe, natural products. But I’m not for spreading faulty science.

So what’s the real issue with labeling something “chemical free” or “no chemicals” or “made without chemicals?”

Because everything is made of chemicals. That’s right, EVERYTHING.

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Water? Two hydrogens + one oxygen. Water is the most important and abundant molecule in the entire class of dihydrogen chalcogenides (a word that sounds scary, but isn’t), and it forms the base of nearly everything we consume.

Carbon? The building block of all organic matter? That’s a chemical too.

I know that this might be an overly simplistic explanation, but in the end, everything is made up of chemicals. Even the safe and natural things that I use to clean my bathroom!

When I hear an advertiser tout that their goods are “chemical free,” it immediately raises my hackles. Not just because I hate the misuse of that term, but because it raises some red flags for me. Either that company (or the representative of said company) doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re deliberately trying to deceive, in order to gain market share in the green and eco-friendly demographic (this is called “greenwashing” btw). Neither scenario is great, but at least with the former, we have an opportunity for growth!

The thing is, the term “chemical free” doesn’t actually mean anything. It doesn’t tell us anything useful about the product. Which chemicals is it free from? Are you trying to say that your product doesn’t contain any petroleum products? Phthalates? Parabens? Be more specific!

“Chemical free” does not equal safe or natural, just like “chemical” does not equal toxic and dangerous. These words don’t mean anything in reality, but marketers sure seem to think they do!

At the end of the day, it’s all about educating consumers to truly understand what’s in the products that we buy. Being able to spot greenwashing language is just one important step. If you want to know more about chemicals (yes, I said it!) in your body products or household goods, here are some resources for you to check out:

Environmental Working Group- guides for consumers

The Chemistry of Cosmetics

Project TENDR

Environmental Protection Agency


So, friends- have you noticed this term cropping up lately? What do you think? Leave me your comments below!

And as always…

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~