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I am noticing an online trend of "pushing back" against the chemophobes and fearmongers.  The following is taken from my blog  and reflects my thoughts on the chemical scares, where they came from, why they persist and how they might subside. I'm really interested in knowing how other Indies perceive the whole chemical fearmongering thing, so please share comments!

Chemophobia has taken over the cosmetics world.  What is it and why does it persist?  Chemophobia is simply the fear of chemicals.

How did we become such a chemophobic nation?  I don't really know, but this is my guess: organic produce and Priuses have become hip. Twenty-five years ago only a fringe group of society was concerned with the environment and organic food.  Organic produce was expensive, saving the environment was for hippies, and the term "fuel-efficiency" was not part of the national lexicon.  But now, for the first time, mainstream Americans are aware of the environment and our impact upon it.  Going green and eating organic are all the rage, and along with that comes a budding realisation that a lot of our man-made products and modern comforts may come at a surprising environmental cost.  I don't know when exactly this began, but I think it had something to do with Al Gore's disturbing global warming movie, a huge price hike in crude oil right smack-dab in the middle of the SUV craze, and George Clooney's first Prius. 

This new awareness of our environment and our health is a good thing, but it creates a situation that is ripe for exploitation.  More and more people are becoming terrified of "chemicals" in their cosmetics, urged along by political groups that failed to educate themselves properly before crying "Devil!", and reinforced by marketing executives who have latched on to the latest selling point: Chemical-Free!  The irony is that there were never really any toxic "chemicals" in there to begin with.  Scientifically, every single thing upon this earth is a chemical.  But the more common definition of a "chemical" these days is an uneducated one: something evil that is man-made and will cause cancer. Eventually.  More ironic still is the fact that those evil "chemicals" are in fact the very ones that have made cosmetics some of the safest products available on the market.  Namely, preservatives.  From parabens to formaldehyde releasers, preservative systems in cosmetics have kept people safe and free of harmful bacteria, mold and fungii for many decades.  Without them we would all be spending a lot more time with a dermatologist trying to combat pervasive skin infections.  And for the record, if you steam a pot of broccoli for dinner, you will be releasing more formaldehyde into your immediate environment than your jar of face cream ever will.  And there still is no scientific link between parabens and cancer, despite years of actually trying to create a link!

Our fear of chemicals is nothing more than our lack of knowledge of chemistry.  And like all fears, it seems to have overridden our common sense: what cosmetics company would willingly choose to add toxic chemicals to its products? A product that causes harm results in a recall, fines, a damaged reputation and millions of dollars of lost revenue.  No CEO would stand for it. 

In all fairness, the internet bears the greatest responsibility in spreading rumors and misinformation.  Our love affair with the internet has made it that much more likely that we will be getting information much of the time from well-intentioned but misinformed sources.  The internet is only just emerging from its Middle Ages stage, where superstitions, myths and witch hunts are still in vogue.  Only with experience will we emerge into the Enlightenment and get better at choosing more reputable information sources, but in the meantime, let's first figure out what all those chemicals are and why we use them.  A little education goes a long way toward dispelling the fears that spread like wildfire across the internet.

Tags: chemicals, chemophobia, cosmetic

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GSE and ROE are not preservatives. They are anti-oxidants. They won't prevent or inhibit spoilage. Unfortunately, they are sometimes marketed as though they will.

There are lots of preservative discussions at this site that may help you. For example:

Switching To Natural Preservatives



If you search on relevant terms here, you'll find more.

If you are a member of IBN, you can take advantage of a great member teleseminar with Cindy Jones of Sagescript The Ins and Outs of Cosmetics Microbiology Testing. (Members, login to get that and other member training and resources.)

Connect with Cindy if you need testing and further assistance. She's awesome!


thanks for the info!  and i will become a member.

The parabens found in tumors are just a tiny bit of a lot of things found in tumors, and they have yet to establish a link between those parabens and the tumor itself.  (Parabens are found in far greater proportion in our diet than in our cosmetics).  Unfortunately, a lot of doctors are also misinformed because they are not really taking the time to read the research themselves.  Those who do are the ones who write in an criticize the studies for their lack of depth and proper control samples.

There are many alternatives to parabens for broad spectrum preservatives.  Rosemary extract is an antioxidant, which is not the same thing as a preservative.  It keeps your oils from going rancid, but it does nothing to inhibit bacteria, yeast and mold.  Grapefruit seed extract is also not a preservative.  That was a hoax: companies tried to sell that stuff as a "natural" preservative, but they added two chemicals to it, one of which was methylparaben.  Once that was established, GSE was eliminated as a preservative because tests conducted on pure grapefruit seed extract showed it to have no antimicrobial activity.  This was a prime example of marketers taking advantage of the "all natural - go green" crowd. 

For alternatives to parabens, check out www.theherbarie.com, and read all the discussions on this site about preservatives.  Also, check in regularly with www.personalcaretruth.com to get the most accurate information on chemicals in cosmetics.

Michele, there is absolutely no evidence that parabens cause cancer. There are lots of things in breast cancer cells, including water, but that doesn't mean they are linked to cancer. There have been many studies on parabens and it has been established that they are safe. Even the European Union allows them in cosmetics, in fact, they are used in food products too and considered safe at levels of 25%. And if you read the literature about grapefruit seed extract you will find that they put antibiotics in the product, so it is that not the grapefruit seed extract preventing spoilage.

As a chemist I could go on and on about this but I will spare you! But if you have kids in school you may realize that science education in our schools is somewhat lacking. My son of course will take 4 yrs of science in high school, but I think only 1 year is required. Those who teach science in high schools do not have degrees in science, but have degrees in education. Fear of science starts at an early age and is deep rooted. Lets teach our children that chemistry starts in the kitchen, cooking is a wonderful teacher!

I am not a chemist but after watching several young family members and friends either die or go through hell with cancer and after seeing a lot more people with allergies to foods, asthma and autism these days than when I was growing up I decided to spend a lot of time researching this for myself.  I agree that there are only some chemicals that are "known to cause cancer" and many of these are banned.  These chemicals have been tested individually not necessarily in the combinations that we ingest them.  I had always thought that when it came to cosmetics that the FDA tested them for safety but I now know that the industry is self-regulated and has only banned around 8 or 10 chemicals.  In contrast, the EU countries have banned over 1100.  Is the EU overreacting?  Possibly.  They have chosen to take the tract of protecting citizens in advance and in the US we ban after we prove that many people have died.  That being said, it may not be comparing apples and apples.  The EU has a very different legal system.  My suggestion?  Educate yourself on the issues.  Read both sides and determine the best course for your family.  I don't want to be bullied by the EWG or the pro-chemical people who say the EWG is bad.  I don't want to promote fear of chemicals or accept that I have to use them; that I don't have any alternatives or options.

Personally, I have decided to eat as many organics as possible (for the environment and to eliminate pesticides in my system).  I eat grass fed beef (for the environment and because it is lower in fat and higher in omegas).  I use simple, natural products on my skin.  I like how they feel.  I like how my skin reacts to them.  I like how they only have a few ingredients in them.  I like that my great great grandmother probably used similar ingredients on her skin.  I like how I only need about 4 different (mulit-use) products instead of 10 or 20 to look good.   But these are all my personal opinions and decisions and I stand by them.  I am not a hippy.  In fact, I'm a CPA turned financial systems analyst turned Indie business owner (www.begreenbathandbody.com).  Bottom line:  I respect the position of the pro-chemical folks.  Please also respect that others (including those who work for EWG and Safe Cosmetics) have made a different decision.  Ultimately we must all make our own decision on this.


Thank you for sharing your opinion, Karen.  It is not that we are necessarily "pro chemical", and it is not that we don't respect others' decisions, it's that we don't respect deliberate campaigns of misinformation that are targeted toward a vulnerable population.  The issue for us is not really about chemicals or no chemicals, it's about access to real information by reputable sources so that we can all be free to make our personal decisions based on real facts.

Unfortunately Karen, you have just repeated the battle cry from the CFSC....Your basis for explanation is reflective of the EU's ban on 1100 ingredients....Have you even seen the list?  Are you aware that the entire list of ingredients except for several are never and will never be used in cosmetics?   That the majority of the ingredients listed pertain to environmental ones?  And the cosmetics directive was simply franchised from the EU ban on environmental ingredients?  This is part of the problem and perception by the public and is a prime example of the blind leading the blind.

Yes education is key and I believe it would better serve your argument if you yourself would do your own research instead of repeating the same disinformation. 

Unfortunately, CFSC and EWG makes it a point to overuse this tired claim of banned ingredients list by the EU, but to date have never provided the actual list so consumers can see for themselves what is on it.

If you would like the actual list, I would be happy to provide it for education sake.


That's is so interesting, Katherine!  I wounder if we can get that list up on this site?  It would be helpful for all Indies to see it and have it explained, so that we can better educate our customers if confronted with the whole "EU ban" rigmarole! 

Also, with regard to the FDA, I believe all ingredients used for cosmetics are indeed subject to FDA approval.  When we purchase individual ingredients, whether it is olive oil or cyclomethicone, it is a substance that has been deemed fit for consumption, either ingested or topical, by the FDA at one time or another. The antimicrobial agents used have also been approved by the FDA.  The fact that the FDA does not approve every jar of cream we produce is testament to the fact that it would be rather redundant to put through an approval process something that is entirely made up of approved substances.

No, actually FDA does not pre-clear cosmetic ingredients for safety.

I also wish to add that we are not pro chemical as your natural foods versus synthetically created substances are not mutually exclusive.  They are all chemicals, so this is not an issue of pro or anti chemical, but is about all chemicals and trace elements that could arbitrarily be selected by EWG as a toxic ingredient.  Apples and oranges for instance, contain Acetaldehyde.  Will you stop eating these fruits based on this finding, or should they be banned based on this finding?  No because the anti carcinogenic benefits far outweigh the trace element that can be found in many fruits or vegetables.  Just one example of how overblown most of the info coming out of the EWG and CFSC is simply created to instill fear.  I find these groups to be nothing short of political bullies and they possess no science by Susan Rolls own admission at the Colorado Personal Care Products Safety Hearing several years ago.  You should give it a listen, it is quite telling.

I love this thread!

I completely agree that much of the "education" going around is just scare tactics.

I can't add much at this moment, but it's just nice to know I'm not alone!



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