Natural or Chemical? That is the Question–or is it?

Let’s talk, shall we?

I am not a chemist, but I hear the term, “chemicals” bandied about in a derisive way by so many of us seeking a more natural life. “I wouldn’t use those products with all those chemicals,” proclaims one. “Chemical-free” is on the label or on a website.

You know what I’m getting at.

So, what’s the problem? Many of us love making and using natural products, right? So why not eschew commercial products with “chemicals?” The problem is this: everything is a chemical or made of chemicals, natural or not. Even our beloved soap is a chemical process. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines a chemical as, “a substance (such as an element or compound) that is made by a chemical process.”

Yes, it is true we know to a great extent what is meant, the synthetic substances that many of us began making products to avoid; but does this make it permissible to use the term so imprecisely?

In my opinion, it does not. It is one thing for John Q. Public to use it, but quite a different thing for those of us who have studied products and learned to make them to use it. A man or woman off the street often has only a vague idea about synthetics vs. naturals; so when they announce their dissatisfaction for synthetics by using the term, “chemicals,” we don’t expect this person to be precise in knowledge or terminology. If those of us who produce products use the terms incorrectly, however, it makes us appear ignorant. If we wish to establish credibility with our customers and our colleagues, we must continually learn and seek to use terms precisely.

Think of this in terms of soap. We mentally cringe when we hear detergent bars called soap, do we not? Do we not work to educate our customers regarding the difference between a 100% soap bar and a syndet bar? By the same token, we should work not to misuse terms ourselves, which will build up our credibility among our customers or friends and those in our field.

Go forth and use chemicals and chemical processes. . . naturally!

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne, for Making Soap, Cosmetics and Candles

PS – As always, we’d love to hear what you think!