What is Chemical-Free?

In this day and age, every consumer is looking for the best and safest products to use on their bodies. Consumers often seek out labels that say “chemical-free!” but is this really true? Let’s look at an example. Burt’s Bees carries a “chemical-free” sunscreen, but what does this really mean?

Many people think “chemical-free” means that there are no toxic chemicals in the product. More specifically, that these toxic chemicals are only present because they are man-made. While this may be the case, it is important to understand that Burt’s Bees may be referring to these man-made toxins, but there are other toxins to be concerned about as well.  Naturally occurring chemicals are toxic to humans too. Some examples of this are found in apples, pears, and potatoes. Wait…what??? Foods that the average American consumes multiple times a week is potentially dangerous for us to eat? To the commoner this is surprising, why would the FDA let people consume potentially toxic chemicals?

Well the real reason we can still consume toxic food items is because the toxins are in such a small concentration that they really do not have any effect on humans! Woo-hoo! No need to worry now!

Back to Burt’s Bees sunscreen and its “chemical-free” label. If we want to be extremely picky about what does it mean to be chemical free, we have to consider what is a chemical? Water is a chemical (and the first listed ingredient in the sun screen), as is Titanium dioxide (the sunscreens active ingredient), along with all other ingredients listed. All things that we eat, wear, and interact with in every day are composed of chemicals because chemicals make up literally everything. All chemicals are made of chemical compounds, which are elements that bind together, and all elements are made of super small particles called atoms. The compounds make up the keyboard I am typing on right now, and the computer screen that you are reading off of.  So is it fair for any product to be labeled as “chemical-free” when it is in fact made up of chemicals entirely?

I think that we have to consider that the company who marked their product as “chemical-free” did not know that this label is incredibly broad and that this statement could never be found to be correct. Burt’s Bees most likely meant that this product, the sunscreen, is toxin free or free of man-made chemicals, which is consistent of most peoples interpretation of “chemical-free”. In other words, Burt’s Bees meant to create a label that roughly said “Our product is natural and does not have any dangerous chemicals known to cause harm” which is very different than “chemical-free”. It is safe to say that the average consumer does not know the difference between “chemical free” and “non-toxic” and that the Burt’s Bees marketing team is appealing to a large audience and knows that by using the phrasing “chemical-free” the consumer will know that the product is not dangerous to use. Although this label was added with good intentions, it truly is false advertising. Instead, Burt’s Bees should use a label such as “non-toxic” or “toxin-free”.

So what does this mean for you? You can still use beauty and health products labeled as “chemical-free”! Just know that this label is somewhat inaccurate. You now know how abundant chemicals are and that they make up everything! BUT- now that you have read through my entire blog post you know what “chemical-free” really means and you can tell all of your friends and now you know so much more about how chemistry impacts your life!

~Hannah

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