Hello my lovelies,
As you know I am a Dr in Chemistry and the negative image of science, chemistry in particular, in our society has been saddening me greatly. I see situations, hear and read things almost on a daily basis that are factualess and yet take over some people’s lives entirely. The main reason I started this blog was to spread some scientific understanding in every day subjects like beauty and fitness, in a world where science is being forgotten and facts are being made up, selectively chosen or interpreted by some without any scientific expertise.
You must have heard by now about the current measles out break and the fiasco happening because some people choose not to vaccinate their kids. I won’t go into this subject in detail here, but one of the reasons people chose not to vaccinate kids is that they believe there is a link between vaccination and conditions/diseases that cause learning difficulties. The truth is there is no scientific link to vaccinations and learning difficulties and these people forget about all the other people who have been vaccinated and yet didn’t have a problem, plus the fact that learning difficulties are usually starting to be observed at the age of some vaccinations. That doesn’t mean that the two are linked.
Nevertheless, this is just one of the reasons but there are many cognitive bias that lead to movements like these, and a lot of it is lack of correct education and wrong media messages which a lot of the times seek to create drama in order to get readership. Sadly, our society is falling further into Chemophobia, and general rejection of science, and it’s now slowly finding it’s way into markets like beauty and fitness.
More and more people on the internet claim to know better than scientists as to whether something is safe or not. More and more beauty companies these days are advertising for clean beauty, which is a term that does not have a strict, world-wide, or even legal definition. Clean beauty is therefore, whatever the specific beauty company defines it at, exactly the same story with organic food, which although is slowly getting a bit more regulation, it is still defined differently by different organisations and countries around the world.
Clean beauty is supposed to be referring to products that are non-toxic and usually specifically free from mineral oil, parabens, pthalates etc. It is amazing how we have invented a problem when we still don’t have proof that it is a problem. The scientific debate on these “common ingredient baddies” is still on going and there is still no solid proof to say that they should be avoided or that they are harmful to us. Otherwise, they would be banned from cosmetics like other substances have been in the past. Unless of course, you believe in conspiracy theories where beauty companies or science are out to get you ill. That’s one of the many cognitive bias that some people are convinced off.
While there isn’t any harm with removing “potential baddies” from cosmetics the concept of beauty companies creating labels to exploit your fears, and yes they do make a lot of money out of them, is disgusting and should not be allowed. Products that usually fall into such labels, such as clean beauty or organic, tend to be much more expensive because they fall into the “specialised product” category or even because sometimes the formulation is truly more expensive without certain cheaper stabilisers. But none of that matters because the consumer and their fears, that’s you and me, are more than happy to pay for peace of mind. But are you not just wasting your time and money while contributing further to the explotation of a chemophobic public?
Let’s spin the argument around. What proof do we have that the ingredients contained in these clean or organic beauty products are safe?
I’m not saying that cosmetics are risk free. Everything we do in life has a risk associated with it. If you go outside your house there is a risk you might be run over by a car, robbed or even stabbed randomly by gang members. When you eat food or drink water you run the risk of getting a disease from it. When you cook you run the risk of ingesting metal from the pans. And yes when you use cosmetics you run a risk of initiating a reaction that might not be healthy. However, in the grant scheme of things and based on all scientific evidence we have so far, the chances of you getting a disease from cosmetics is very low. Much, much lower than from the food you are eating, much, much lower than the unhealthy lifestyle you are leading and much, much lower than the added stress you allow in your life. Even stress has more scientific evidence to be linked to diseases such as cancer, than cosmetics do. It never ceases to amaze me how great lengths some people take to use “healthy cosmetics” (without any proof that they are actually more healthy) and yet they do not exercise, they eat badly and they lead unhealthy lifes. Do you not think you should focus on those things first?
There is also of course the genetic lottery we’ve all played when we were born. I’ve known cases of people who were Olympic athletes or other highly fit and healthy people who never missed a single workout in their life and yet died of cancer because they were predisposed by their genetics. There are so many bigger factors that could be making you ill and cosmetics is almost an excuse to ignore fixing those first. Can you truly say that you eat healthy and balanced meals, have no genetic risks, exercise 4-5 times a week, have a healthy weight to body fat ratio, live stress free, are happy and it is your cosmetic choices that are making you ill?
I personally don’t have a problem with removing certain ingredients to create what I call “peace of mind cosmetics” and I always state if a compound is suspected for anything in the ingredient analysis section of my posts. However, that is very different from saying that if you use those ingredients you will get ill or that the other ingredients are definitely risk free, and it is definitely very different from creating an entire brand label around them, promoting a yet imaginary fear.
The fear of certain ingredients making you ill stems from a lot of different causes, some of them being lack of education of even simple things like what a chemical actually is. In chemistry, water is also a chemical and chemical does not mean bad or synthetic, that’s just how the media and popular belief interprets the term. Other common reasons are the illogical association of unnatural or synthetic with bad, or perhaps the association of natural with good, completely forgetting all the thousands of ways that nature can kill us. Not to mention that compounds don’t have a memory or history and will not know if they were synthetically or naturally made.
Other people are scared because of personal experiences, were they or a close loved one might have been ill, and they of course don’t want to get ill themselves. While that is a completely understandable and very relatable situation, it is also a thought driven by fear and the unknown, as the truth is you or even your medical doctors cannot know what it was exactly that made that person ill. You might take an educated guess and say that for example, your smoking gave you lung cancer but the truth is you will never know which reaction it was exactly that went wrong in your body and why. In practice, diseases don’t happen because of one reason alone, they usually need a set of conditions to be met, like for example to be smoking, being unfit, being stressed and perhaps even having the genetic tendency to get the disease. It almost never is just one thing or situation, otherwise, to use the same example, everyone who smoked cigarettes would get lung cancer.
Anyhow, the list of reasons why some think they know better than scientists or are choosing the wrong facts goes on, and these are just a few examples. For a more detailed post on chemophobia and potential reasons of why we’ve grown to be afraid of chemicals, but still use them when it suits us like when we are ill in the hospital for example, can be found here: The Chemical Misconception – Should we avoid chemicals?
For a post on all the scientific, or lack of thereof, evidence on whether organic food (and so by extension organic beauty) is worth buying and why this choice might actually be selfish check out: Organic food and farming – Scientific evidence, problems and ethical dilemmas
Sure, moving towards “clean beauty” is not (as far as we can foresee now at least) as serious as the anti-vaxxer movement for example, but it is the same principle and problem that if left unchecked will cause further issues. We are telling beauty companies that it’s been ok that they’ve been scamming us with all the fake beauty claims so far (how many beauty products have you tried that don’t work as advertised?) and we want more, specifically we would like to be exploited further on our fears. We would like to pay a premium to have solutions on problems that have not been proven to be problems yet.
Other than the exploitation of fear, cognitive bias and our lack of education that these labels are targeting, I am also concerned that this will end up reducing the already few beauty products that actually do work, to an even smaller number, because certain formulations or ingredients will not be possible or accepted by this label/trend anymore. Or simply because the amount of “scam” or weak products will increase even more, as we allow certain marketing and advertising claims to take over, diluting our chances to find the good products out there. How sad will that be. To be exploited on our fears, for beauty companies to make even more money and for us to loose out on the few cosmetics that actually work. Think about that next time you support such movements but most importantly, think of the lack of evidence and the gain that some might have just for you to feel clean. Trends like clean beauty, organic beauty or even organic food are not as simple as you might think.
And for the love of everything beautiful, don’t just believe any information you read or hear. Ask the professionals in the subject.
Lots of love,
A very worried chemist, aka, Bonds of Beauty
I am not affiliated with any company or brand, these are my views and experiences.