We’re all used to seeing the constant stream of flashy ads brandishing flawless models with their long, luscious lashes, perfectly contoured cheekbones and fiercely filled in eyebrows. We can also occasionally catch these same ads with special messages: “All natural ingredients!” “No animal cruelty!” “Totally organic substances!” Then, one of the most amusing claims, “Chemical free ingredients!”
When we see a product that declares itself “chemical free,” we automatically assume that it is better, or at least healthier, than its competitors right away… Regardless of what chemical free even means. But if we really want to think about it, does anyone even know what a chemical is? Yeah, we may start to think of scary colorful liquids in test tubes concocted in laboratories, but if you ask me, that’s not a really solid definition of what makes up a “chemical.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a chemical as “a substance obtained by a chemical process or producing a chemical effect.” And the textbook we are using in my Introductory Chemistry course, General Chemistry-Atoms First by John E. McMurry and Robert C. Fay, defines a chemical compound as “a chemical substance composed of atoms of more than one element.”
Suppose we decided to base our definition of what a chemical is off of the idea that they are simply compounds made up of different elements. Then essentially everything composed of matter in our universe including you and I would be made of chemicals, wouldn’t we? If you were to look closely enough, every object and organism on earth could be broken down in to simple compounds, and eventually, elements. Individual atoms of different elements are what compose everything, including the makeup we use.
Clearly these makeups that claim to be “chemical free” aren’t truly that. So what do companies mean when they say that their products don’t contain any chemicals? Are they saying that their ingredients aren’t synthetic, or maybe that everything they use is organic? I guess we will never know.
One humorous example of a beauty product trying to attract customers by claiming to be “chemical free” is found on the webpage of Ecominerals, a vegan-friendly makeup brand. (Find the link below) On the “about” section of their page is a list of facts about their product, mostly talking about how their ingredients are obtained in ways that aren’t harmful to animals, how the product isn’t tested on animals, etc. At the bottom of the page there is a side note that mentions that their products are “totally chemical free and made from all-natural substances found in the earth we walk on, so they are as good as it gets for the health of your skin, as well as being the ethical choice. To make things even better, they are beautifully packaged too!”
While ethical choices and beautiful packaging do seem appealing, I can’t help but laugh at this company’s description of what they think “chemical free” is. The fact that a substance is found naturally on earth absolutely does not make it any safer than a synthetic substance. This is a common misconception that companies use to their advantage in marketing. When people hear “all natural” they automatically think that it is healthier than a manmade product, regardless of what it is.
Actually, as the Royal Society of Chemistry in UK mentions in an article, five of the seven most deadly compounds, or chemicals if you will, are found here on the very “earth we walk on.” In other words, they’re natural rather than synthetic. So even if chemical free means that it is all-natural, is this really even a good thing?
Regardless of whether the goal of these companies is to prove that their ingredients are natural, organic or vegan friendly, the term “chemical free” is not a good one to use. Quite frankly, it is impossible to create any type of product without chemicals, since chemicals make up everything around us. So next time you’re trying to decide which type of mascara to purchase in CVS, look a little closer at the ingredients and do some research yourself, rather than relying on the meaningless claim that the front label is screaming at you.. Because no matter what it says, I can guarantee that the makeup isn’t “chemical free.”