Updated: Jun 18
It’s pretty messed up. We have to guess what companies put into their products. Even with the ingredients listed on the back, we still don't get the full story. On top of which, we then have to try to figure out how they are made, because often the process itself relies on other chemicals we never hear about. Extraction, distillation, delivery systems and other manipulations take place with the help of chemical intervention to get products to behave properly and withstand life in a warehouse, on shipping trucks and finally, on a shelf.
I get that chemicals are necessary in order for us to enjoy the textures, scents, colors and appearance of the myriad of products out there. What I take issue with is the lack of information. What makes me beyond crazy is when companies claim their products are "natural," when they are, in truth, not. I like to imagine a world where a manufacturer gives us all the info they have, which is information we need in order to decide for ourselves how to best care for our bodies. Unfortunately, we are not there, yet.
There are legitimate uses for chemicals in products. Yes, many of them are cause for concern, but without them, you have other things to worry about. You have to worry about microbes growing in your creams and lotions.
Companies put chemicals into products because if they don’t, they can’t make large scale, low cost, safe products. In food and consumer products, these are the three variables that compete. But with regard to safety, it depends on how you define it. Either you don’t want chemicals because of health concerns, so you buy products you think are made without chemicals because they are labeled "natural," or you’re not concerned about the chemicals and just want products that are shelf stable and free of microbial growth.
Either way, we have a right to know what we are putting in, and on, our bodies. The chemical companies need to stop telling us the stuff they make is harmless, and in many cases, "natural," when it’s not. They need to own that the chemicals are necessary in order to protect us from infections – like I said, totally legit. And the “natural companies” need to tell us how they are preventing microbial growth and/or also need to stop telling us their products are natural when they are not. Otherwise, they are no different from the chemical companies. They are putting ingredients in our products and not telling us, at best, and lying about it, at worst.
Here are two of my favorite examples:
Natural Deodorant: If you have a natural deodorant stick that you apply directly to your skin, or from a jar into which you dip your fingers, you run the risk of contaminating the product with yeast and/or bacteria from your body. With nothing in there in the form of a preservative to protect the product from microbial growth, you potentially have a situation where you are transferring unwanted organisms back and forth from the product to your skin. This is important information that requires some sort of communication that protects the user. This could include directions about using a sterilized spatula that you keep clean after each use, and a directive that you should never double dip. Or, you can do what we do: refrigerate it – like food. Case and point: I just read a DIY article from a company that sells natural ingredients. In it they offered a deodorant recipe. But it was for deodorant in a jar with directions that said scoop out with fingers and apply. No. No. No!
Natural Lube: Astroglide used to come in a natural, botanical version that had a footnote stating that two of the ingredients notated with an asterisk were, “Not naturally derived and essential to keep pH adjusted and protect from microbes.” This is the whole, entire point. There really is nothing to hide, yet they do. That label has since changed, which I really wish it hadn't since this was the one and only time I ever saw a company label honestly and educate the customer at the same time. Now, why they changed it is anyone's guess. But it looks like they have gone the way of every other company. It's a shame. They could have been leaders in an important movement toward transparency in labeling, while offering consumers an opportunity to make better decisions about their health.
You may also enjoy reading, The Toxins In Your Toiletries.