Chemical free is a term used in marketing to imply that a product is safe, healthy or environmentally friendly because it only contains natural ingredients. But what exactly does it means in the natural skincare industry? As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as chemical free. All matter is a chemical, even water is made up of 2 elements, hydrogen and oxygen so it has a chemical formula of H2O.
The term chemical free has been widely used to perceive that a cosmetic does not contain any harmful chemicals. This makes people think that chemical free could mean it does not contain ingredients that are not natural. So people use chemical free to get the idea across that there isn’t anything considered harmful within the product and so the product is natural. Same as the word “natural”, chemical free does not really mean anything from a scientific and technical perspective when it comes to cosmetics. Chemical does not equal toxic. Chemical free does not equal organic, natural or even safe. In fact, the term “chemical free” does not mean anything, so do the word “natural“.
To put things in a more appropriate perspective, actually, everything we put on our face, skin, body, and hairs is all made up of chemicals.
What Customers Really Want to Know
Looking at the customer’s point of view, they would like to know what they are buying. It does not really help when you see a label with a long list of what is in the product and trying to figure out what are those ingredients and what the impacts they have. Because of the long list of ingredients that were listed on the label, you will not able to see what are not in there as that probably will add on to another long list. Simple, the customers just want to know there is nothing harmful in the products they use.
Cosmetic ingredients are often very hard to read and understand. All cosmetic products are required to be labeled with INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) ingredient labeling. INCI names are systematic names internationally recognized to identify cosmetic ingredients. It is based on scientific names and other Latin and English. For example, the INCI name for water is “AQUA”. For plant names, for instance, they will often use the Latin biological name for the plants. INCI is used and standardized around the world where INCI terminology is legally required, and most countries around the world are starting to follow the EU regulations.
The industry has a role to play. Brands should start marketing on what is in their products based on the fantastic ingredients they were using. For consumers, how green and clean your beauty products are, try learning to read or recognize some of the ingredients to choose healthier and safer skin care products.
How Regulations Play a Part in the Beauty Industry?
There is a big driving force to use chemical free by the brands as people want to buy products that don’t contain synthetic chemicals. And this creates a vicious cycle as marketers, in this case, will start market a term that customers want to see.
EU is very strict and they enforce safe and stable products coming into the market. However, it is not really the case for the US. For instance, the word “free” from is more heavily regulated in the EU than the US. US regulation is not keen on what is in the products, it is focusing a lot more on regulating what the product says because they do not want any drug claims. Give an example, if a product contains lavender essential oil and it has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, you are not allowed to make claims or statements about the effects, unless it is considered as a drug. And this causes the brands to start making the “free” claims i.e. chemical free since they are not allowed to market what is in their products.
As there is no standardization globally on how you should state what is in your products by law, it is, therefore, causing more confusion. A similar case to “chemical free”, there is a lot of brands is using the term “preservative free”. Because to use a preservative in the EU and define it as the preservative in your product, it has to legally contain within the EU regulations. The preservative must be on the list of approved preservatives. This is due to the fact that you are not allowed to use a new preservative unless it has gone through animals testing to be able to fall under the regulation. However, animal testings for cosmetic purposes are not allowed in EU. And so, now brands are able to a preservative that is not defined as a preservative under the law and call their products preservative free. This again misleads consumers and of course, this created such a terrible vicious circle where brands or marketers can use “preservative free” freely. Preservation on cosmetic products are safer than not, and brands should include preservatives and be honest about it.
Brands are making their cosmetic claims based on marketing and setting the word “free” on label everywhere are causing misleading messages. Customers want transparency and will probably be happy knowing what botanical plants, herbs in the products and what their amazing effects, and marketers will be advertising, selling on the positives of the formulations rather than what are not in the products.
End of the day, regulators should look at cosmetic chemistry as a whole and recognize that their regulations will impact how brands market their products. There should be more flexibility on how the brands can use certain terms and focusing what is in the products than what is not.
The future of skin care is going to be more straightforward.
Deborah Blum (January 22, 2012). “Chemical-free nonsense: Equating ‘chemical’ with ‘evil’ is an invitation to misplaced fear and a way of thinking that makes us less safe”. Los Angeles Times.