Why chemical free claims are harmful

The claim “chemical free” really bugs me and I really wish marketers, the media, and everyone else would stop using it. Almost nothing is “chemical free”!!

My latest irritation with the claim was from an article published on the Times Free Press website entitled Chemical free ways to clean your home. Further reading of the article has the author recommending “chemical free” products like Vinegar, Salt, Baking Soda, Lemon Juice and Castile Soap.

What!?

Has this reporter ever taken a chemistry class?

Vinegar is Acetic Acid…a chemical
Kosher salt is Sodium Chloride…a chemical
Baking soda is Sodium Bicarbonate…a chemical
Lemon Juice is mostly Citric Acid…another chemical

Ugh!

Why, why, why would someone publish such nonsense? What do they even mean when they say “chemical free”? It certainly can’t literally mean chemical free.

Incidious Chemical Free

My complaints about chemical free are more than just semantics. This incidious claim has a number of negatives associated with it. And these will be problems for cosmetic chemists and formulators who want to produce safe, functional, and excellent products. Here are the primary problems with chemical free.

1. Chemical free is inaccurate. Almost nothing is chemical free. All matter is made up of chemicals (elements). And all products are made up of matter. Water is a chemical (2 parts Hydrogen, 1 part Oxygen). Vinegar is a chemical. The only things that are not chemical are things like light, electricity, magnetism, or subatomic particles. These are unlikely to be the composition of your “chemical free” cosmetic or cleaning product.

2. Chemical free is deceptive and misleading. This is the most significant problem with the chemical free claim. It is used when the marketer wants to say “this product is safer than other products”. The implication is that “chemical free” products are more safe than “chemical containing” products. Of course, since every product contains chemicals the claim is a lie. The implication that a “chemical free” product is safer is also a lie. “Chemical free” cosmetics are not demonstrably safer than ones that don’t claim “chemical free”. It’s a lie! Consumers are being duped. I don’t know why these claims are allowed, especially when they are false advertising.

Consumers deserve accuracy in advertising and they should not be lied to. There is no such thing as a chemical free cosmetic and these claims of “chemical free” sunscreens are complete fabrications!

If you have any ability to stamp out this chemical free nonsense at your company, I encourage you to do it. These claims are spreading scientific ignorance and leading to the errosion of critical thinking among the general population.

There really should be a law or at the very least, people who make innacurate “chemical free” claims should be publicly flogged. Metaphorically of course.

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