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Chemical Free?

(from: http://www.drdanslipbalm.com/products/dr-dans-sunblock-spf-30)

With so many different types and brands of products filling the shelves of supermarkets across America today, marketers are always looking for ways to distinguish their products. Sometimes they even seem to “stretch the truth” or use catchy phrases to gain attention. One such catchy phrase is the labeling of a product as “Chemical Free” as in the above example of Dr. Dan’s SunBlock.

Looking at it from a Chemistry standpoint, all matter is composed of the same stuff. Everything is made up of elements on the periodic table, and more specifically, everything is made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons rearranged in different ways and numbers. So unless the makers of Dr. Dan’s Sunblock got their product from an alternate universe (that would be some expensive sunblock) with different matter and different particles, it will never be truly chemical free. The entertaining part about this specific example is that the box says “No Harsh Chemicals”, which implies that chemicals were used, just not harsh ones. Which chemicals you might wonder? On the webpage (URL Above) explaining details about the product it says Dr. Dan’s, “has no such [harsh] chemicals; instead we use two natural, inert minerals called Titanium dioxide and Zinc Dioxide”. So it seems that chemicals were definitely used in the product despite their best efforts to say otherwise. Whether they are inert or not should not matter when the claim is that no chemicals were used whatsoever. I think Douglas Main puts it best, in his similar article to this blog, when he says, “the term [Chemical-free] is meaningless”.

[ Douglas Main’s Article: http://www.popsci.com/article/science/comprehensive-scientific-review-chemical-free-products ]

However, I have nothing against this product, other than what I just ranted about above this. I have never used the product, and for all I know it could be very good. A rephrasing in the description is all I ask for. Instead of Chemical Free, they should focus on the fact that their product is made from non-toxic materials and other materials which are less likely to cause allergies according to their “Leading Dermatologist”.

All in all, I think the thing to take away from this discussion is to not fall into marketing traps like this, which can be misleading. There is no need to be afraid of chemicals because they are just electrons, protons, and neutrons in a slightly different form. The only time you should be concerned with chemicals is when they are clearly toxic or dangerous to your health, and for that you should check the ingredients list on the back of the product you buy. Being aware of what you are purchasing and being a smart shopper, who also knows some chemistry on the side, is a very useful attribute to have. -WH