“chemical free” Equals “harmless to human” ?

When I got the assignment of finding the product which is labeled as “chemical free” around me, the first thing came to me was some of the makeup I am using. After searching my bag, as expected, I found lots of examples. One of them is Burt’s Bees bees wax lip balm which is labeled as “100% natural” and “chemical free”.

During the chemistry class this term, I learned that chemistry is about the composition, properties and transformation of matters. That is, chemistry is everywhere and is about everything. It is a study of atoms and other smaller particles and how they compose our world. Knowing the concept of chemistry, the claim on the lip balm seems inappropriate and even ridiculous to me. In the ingredient list, it said bee wax, coconut, oil, sunflower, peppermint, etc. However, no matter how hard the brand tries to make the ingredients sound more “natural”, they are still not “chemical free”. Regardless of whether they are artificial or natural, they are still matters and are composed of different atoms. I don’t think that the designer of lip balm would be that ignorant to make such a mistake. It is obvious that the claim was designed for some purpose to mislead the consumers.

So what is the marketer trying to convey with this label? I am afraid we have to mention the increasing tendency of chemophobia and appeal to nature in recent years. “chemophobia” is an irrational aversion or prejudice against chemicals or chemistry.  The phenomenon has been ascribed both to a reasonable concern over the potential adverse effects of synthetic chemicals, and to an irrational fear of these substances because of misconceptions about their potential for harm.[1] Due to this irrational fear and prejudice, the argument of appeal to nature started to grow. An appeal to nature is an argument or rhetorical tactic in which it is proposed that a thing is good because it is “natural”, or bad because it is “unnatural”. [2] Just as the example of Burt’s Bee lip balm, label makers use the phrase “chemical free” to imply that products are environmentally friendly and safe.

However, whether or not a product is “all natural” or “chemical free” is irrelevant when it comes to determine whether it is safe and healthy. On the one hand, the “all natural” matters can be poisonous. For example, a lot of chemical compounds found in plants are poisonous to humans, even at small dose, such as some fruits we eat every day and naturally-occurring botulinum. Even if water and air can be poisonous in some condition. On the other hand, many man-made compounds are not harmful to human body at all unless used in large amount. “The dose makes the poison” is a rule that applies to all compounds, natural or man-made. [3]

So what would make a more appropriate label? Replacing the dishonest label such as “chemical free” with “harmless to body” or “100% healthy” may be a better choice. Since these labels not only aim at easing consumers’ concern but also keep honest with them.



Work Cited

[1] chemophobia—https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemophobia

[2] appeal to nature — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature

[3]Brunning,Andy. “Natural vs. Man-Made Chemicals – Dispelling Misconceptions.” Natural vs. Man- Made Chemicals – Dispelling Misconceptions. Compound Interest, 19 May 2014. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.





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