This well-intentioned question just goes to show how tricky this natural space has become and how much mis-information is being tossed around.
Often times brands are using the phrase “chemical free” as another tactic in greenwashing — getting people to buy into an idea aimed at selling natural products that’s not real or even possible.
I immediately discount “chemical free” cosmetics brands untrustworthy
Does that shock you?
Let me explain why…
Every ingredient, natural or synthetic, is a chemical
Think back to your chemistry class and remember how two hydrogen and one oxygen atom form a molecule through a chemical bond to create the natural, life-sustaining substance we call “water”. [source]
Therefore, my friends, water is a chemical.
When people ask about chemical free cosmetics they are really expressing that their desire to avoid harsh synthetic ingredients that are toxic and carcinogenic.
That is so important to and I love that they are on the path of seeking out healthier skincare and makeup!
Unfortunately I see beauty companies promoting their natural-ness by saying they’re a brand of “chemical free” makeup, skin care or moisturizers – but but there’s no such thing!
The fact that these formulators are making such a claim is a red flag that they don’t understand basic chemistry, or that they’re fine with promoting a misnomer. Neither one is a good thing in my opinion.
A few years back I remember seeing that one of the green beauty world’s most loved brands, Josh Rosebrook, had the statement “chemical free” on the front of the packaging. Since I love Josh’s products and him personally, I asked if he could explain why he had “chemical free” on his bottles in the first place and later omitted that phrase.
Josh’s response was spot on!
I had ‘chemical free’ on my label in the early days for a few reasons. Back then ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ were overused and greenwashed (as they still are today).
At the time, people saw the word ‘chemical’ as meaning synthetic. The market didn’t really understand that everything is chemical.
I wanted to find a way to differentiate myself from brands that I call “hybrid” lines. Meaning the lines who use both synthetic chemicals and organic ingredients, yet market themselves as being natural and organic.I wanted to be known as an effective (safe) skin and hair care line, not an organic, natural skin and hair care line.
Once I had established myself as a clean line, I didn’t need to state it on the front anymore.
He went on to explain…
When people say “Oh, it has chemicals” as a reason to avoid purchasing a product, I don’t think they are necessarily uneducated or disingenuous. They are talking about harmful chemicals.
If you break it down, everyone understands that plants are made of chemicals and all reactions in the body are chemical. There is nothing to argue there.
It’s that chemical-free is not technically correct and the term “free of harmful chemicals” would be better.
The brands that are still saying it are not in touch with the level of education in the market today and or they are just being lazy with still using a phrase like “chemical free” OR they really don’t know technically which for brand is not ok…
In an industry where brands can get away with saying just about anything they want and get away with lying to the consumer through “greenwashing”, it’s even more important that you educate yourself on correct terminology.
And let’s be honest, what the heck does “ free of harmful chemicals” mean anyway? We’ll dive into that in another article soon.
Education. Education. Education.
For now, please start tweaking your language to omit the false phrase “chemical free” when shopping for beauty products.
Also become familiar with the ingredients GBT thinks are toxic and to be avoided. (Tip: The first 10 are the most important ones to pay attention to.)
Ultimately the movement for healthy beauty is in your hands, so let’s make sure we’re all saying the most accurate statements possible as we invite (and educate) people and brands to make changes.
So now I have a question for you…
After reading this, would you feel good about trusting your skin’s health and giving your money over to a brand that claims their cosmetics are chemical free?
Let me know in the comments below where you stand on this!
Feature photo by Hey Paul