Your guide to natural and organic living

Sense about Science

October 22, 2008

Along the way with my research for anderra, I have found some websites that really provoke a sense of panic…almost to the point where they are hysterical. Don’t get me wrong, there is alot of extremely valuable information on the internet and I have cited alot of internet research in the anderra sources. But it got me thinking, that all it takes is someone to present some incorrect information, which then gets circulated all over the internet, picking up steam as it goes.

I was sent a pdf called Sense About Science: ‘Making Sense of Chemical Stories’. The aim of the pdf is to weed out myths and scare stories from facts of chemical stories. It contained a couple of really interesting points, which I have highlighted and briefly dicussed.

. “The chemical reality is that you cannot lead a chemical-free life, because everything is made of chemicals. Chemicals are substances and chemistry is the science of substances – their structure, properties and the reactions that change them into other substances”.

As frustrating as this is, it’s true. Many people are trying to live as ‘natural’ as possible – creating a massive market for ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ products. However, there are chemicals that are much harder to avoid, such as those in the air we breathe and the water we drink. I think this is why more and more people are buying natural products (skin care, household cleaning etc), because they are quite simple changes to make – it’s much easier to starting using a chemical free shampoo than it is to find chemical free air. But at the same time, we can try our best!

2. “A chemical can’t simply be classified as “dangerous” or “safe”: it always depends on the amount, or dose, received. The effects of a chemical will change with different amounts, so that below a certain dose it may be harmless or beneficial and at a higher dose it may be toxic”.

One of the main concerns about many ingredients used in body care products is the lack of longitudinal research. For example: you use a face cream everyday for 50 years – on a day to day basis there may be no effects from certain ingredients because the dose is too small. But what happens in 50 years, when you have say 50 times that amount as well as other ingredients in your system? In her book, ‘A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients’, Ruth Winters writes that until the 1960’s people still thought that the skin was largely an impenetrable barrier.

For some, even a small dose of a certain ingredient (whether it be natural or un-natural) can bring out a flair or contact dermitis, or eczema, so the negative result is instant.

Natural ingredients have been used for centuries for health and healing but they can still cause negative reactions too – whether it be from improper use or allergy. The Mum of a friend of mine has an allergy to lavender. If it gets on her skin, it makes her itchy and she comes out in a rash.

3. “Language is a large part of the problem. Science makes everything sound scary, and so we are scared”.

This is something I can identify with. I was looking at what some of my body care products contained and I came across something called sodium benzoate. I thought to myself, “this doesn’t sound good”, so I did some investigating and found out that it is actually a preservative that naturally occurs fruits. This shows the importance of understanding the labels of body care products – if ‘good’ ingredients can sound ‘bad’, ‘bad ingredients can also sound ‘good’. It’s just a case of knowing what to look for and which ingredients are best to avoid and which ingredients sound scarey even though they aren’t.

A brand that sticks in my mind for clear labeling is Organic Surge. They help consumers to decode the scary jargon on their product labels by writing a plain English meaning for some of the ingredients in brackets. For example, ‘coco-glucoside (coconut oil and fruit sugars)’ and ‘tocopherol (natural vitamin E). I wish more companies would use this approach for ingredient labeling…

4. “It may surprise many people to discover that bioaccumulation is not, in itself, a bad thing. There are some chemicals that we actively need to accumulate to survive, such as vitamin D over the summer months in order to get through the winter”.

Accumilation put simply is where a substance is absorbed faster than it is expelled, so it is ‘stored’. Bioaccumilation is this process in the body.

Our bodies accumulate all sorts of vitamins and minerals to keep us oiled and well. Whilst the accumilation of some ingredients is good, the accumulation of others can be bad. It is much more beneficial for your body to absorb vitamin c from fruit and vegetables than it is the propylene gylcol from your moisturiser.

My conclusion is that it is really important for people to be able to find reliable information – but also in a way that makes them feel positive and inspires rather than panics them into change.

There is a huge amount of valuable information on the internet, it’s just a case of filtering that out of all the panic from the good stuff!

Let us know what you think