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Nasty Chemicals and Pacifism

March 2, 2013
  1. Are all chemicals nasty?
  2. Can a pacifist ever  be an activist?
  3. Can you teach a dog to pick up his own poop?

These questions have been rolling around inside my brain like marbles in a pinball machine all day, partly because it’s raining and I’m not motivated enough to do anything else except think but also because every week I see and/or hear something about one or another ‘nasty cosmetic chemical/product’ and this week I wanted to give it some more thought.  So here we go…….

My art

In the beginning this blog was motivated by one thing – helping people to realise their natural beauty and potential and to engage with the personal care/ beauty industry in a healthy  and empowered way. That mission still stands.  However, the small print of my big mission was coming from a place of hope,  hope that I could help people see that not all chemicals are bad, toxic or ‘nasty’,  that even some of  the ‘nasties’  have their time and place and that it’s unrealistic to think that the cosmetics industry (or any industry for that matter) is motivated by a desire to kill their client base.

However, after quickly tiring both of the anger directed at anyone who poses counter arguments to the ‘toxic’ debate and the monotony and boredom of reading the exchanges that go on between the ‘toxic and nasty’ and the  ‘Trust me I’m a scientist”  mob I started to question my personal stance and motivation, was there any benefit in playing that game or fighting that fight???

Especially given that:

  • People don’t like being told what to think.
  • People don’t like to feel stupid and telling them something that goes against their ‘gut’ feeling or popular opinion makes them nervous.
  • Most people are time poor.
  • Most people believe the old adage  ‘there’s no smoke without fire’  and  feel happy to use this to  justify adopting the ‘precautionary principle’ rather than research each and every doubt.
  • We are talking about non-essential purchases here that we can all live without.
  • I don’t like fighting.

I don’t like fighting?


I used to think that my not liking fighting was a sign that I was secretly passive aggressive and that maybe I took my ‘fight’ out in other ways but after 5 years of pacifism on this blog and at work (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a mo), 13 years of peaceful and happy marriage, 12 years of average (could always be better) but relatively diplomatic parenting and a lifetime of not picking fights (well, there was this one time……..)   I now know that isn’t true. I don’t like fighting, I don’t bottle up my ‘fight’ and I really don’t see the point in outsourcing my sense of self to others (surely we only fight when we feel threatened?). In short, people calling out ‘toxic chemicals’ citing studies that I know to be flawed and bias to only a small part of one side of a story no longer bothers the heart of me.  My blood doesn’t boil and I don’t want to teach them a lesson.  But that doesn’t mean I do nothing as I will explain.

Not fighting is very, very important to me and once I re-thought my own motivations I started to see why.

Really what motivates me most is the process towards understanding through cradle-to-grave thinking.  I like and am drawn to areas of controversy and ‘greyness’ because these places really make me think.  So, what do I think?  What do I think about parabens?  About SLS, Propylene Glycol, Petroleum based ingredients, Perfumes, silicones and a thousand and one other things?  The truth is I don’t ‘think’ anything per se.  I don’t have a militant position. I am not un-moving.  My brain is open for business.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that”  Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 

If I was to tell you that ‘nasty chemical A’  is fine,  I know it don’t cause cancer, it is always safe and I don’t know what the fuss is all about I would be lying.

Further, substituting ‘nasty chemical A’ for lavender essential oil wouldn’t make my mind any clearer.  I wouldn’t know about that either.

So I know nothing?

Of course not, I know what I know and I seek to understand the limits, boundaries and context of what others that I come across know.   I have read and continue to seek out, read and question the safety of ingredients used in cosmetic products. I haven’t got time to do this all of the time for every chemical but I do do it.  Further more being self-employed and being that my research and writing is self-funded and ‘free’ I can choose to investigate, test and write about whatever I goddamn please.  Of course I am aware of bias and being a person like any other the list above is as relevant to me as it is to an ‘anti-nasty chemicals activist’.   However, the integrity and success of my business rests on my ability to overcome and challenge that as what I am paid for is my ability to question, research and deliver a full, rounded appraisal of a situation.  I know this, I know that I don’t always get it 100% right but neither do I get it all wrong.

And that’s why I am a pacifist as far as the ‘war’ on nasty chemicals is concerned.

Pacifism:  The belief that violence of any kind is unjustifiable and that one should not participate in war.

Every day of my working life I am reminded of the fact that a war against ‘chemical nasties’ exists.  I know this because the soldiers on this front line, the activists keep on producing ‘data’, adverts, posters, articles and the like.

Activism:  A policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end, especially a political or social one.

Militance:  Fighting or warring. Having a combative character; or aggressive, especially in the service of a cause.


peas growing

From where I sit there is no need for war but there is a need for deep and considered  intellectual engagement and exchange.

We don’t need militant activism, we need diligent investigation.

No more fear-inciting, recycled one-dimensional rants and more positive, balanced solution-centered truths.

Less opinion and more fact.

Quite frankly we need to do more free, unfettered, a-political science.

Just wake me up when you find that lab and I’ll be there.

In the meantime I’ll just keep on writing as it helps me to get my head around things.  If it helps you too then that’s great.


PS: The answers to my questions (in my opinion) are:

  1. it depends
  2. it depends
  3. no

PPS: I happen to think that some chemicals can help to create beauty. As I couldn’t find any great pictures of chemical pacifism I decided to shower my article with images from my life this week where chemistry has been employed in this way. I love it 🙂

Pic 1: Some artwork that I did to decorate our sewing room.  Without chemistry these paints would not exist. Some might say that it doesn’t matter, we could use beetroot, carrot or ochre? Yes we could.

Pic 2: This yummy food is wholesome and natural and so the chemistry I want to think about here isn’t about the ingredients, it is about cooking.  Without an appreciation of a foods chemistry it would be very difficult to create master pieces like this.  Great chefs are also great scientists.

Pic 3: These baby dolls were made by my daughter but we also have to thank textile chemistry for creating such amazing fabrics, colours and thread.

Pic 4:  These baby pea plants are growing without additional chemicals but that said the soil has been improved by addition of a natural, organic friendly potting mix. Without a knowledge of chemistry that soil could kill rather than nurture our little plants.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2013 10:20 pm

    Beautiful 🙂

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 2, 2013 10:23 pm

      Thank you so much. It feels good to share

  2. March 2, 2013 11:53 pm

    I note that you were referring to war against chemicals. But just want to note that many people wrongly assume that the words ‘pacifism’ and ‘passive’ are related, and they are not.
    And in my limited experience, I have never seen a pacifist who is active.


    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 3, 2013 12:13 am

      I would be interested in hearing you elaborate on your comment. I don’t feel that the words pacifist and passive are related either as pacifist relates to peace, passive relates to in-action. This is about a peaceful action, a peaceful investigation of a situation. Maybe I’m wrong, that’s ok. Please share

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
        March 3, 2013 12:15 am

        Oh I get where you got that from now, my mistake. I meant ‘can a pacifist ever be an activist’ I’ll make that change so it doesn’t confuse people.

  3. Lencie Wenden permalink
    March 3, 2013 5:31 am

    I for one really value your expert knowledge and thoughtful and considered contribution to ongoing debates about natural versus chemical. The ability to give a “full, rounded appraisal of the situation” is so rare. It seems everyone has either a product to sell or an axe to grind on everything from health to politics. And while I love the Internet for many things, it does allow the ignorant and intellectually lazy to peddle their views to a larger audience than ever before. So if you ever feel jaded as you’re trawling through all the conflicting information on a particular topic and questioning why you put all the time and effort into blogging about things on your own time and unpaid, take heart in the knowledge that your hard work is appreciated. I’d like to think there are many more people like me out there too. 🙂

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 3, 2013 7:24 am

      Oh wow thank you!
      I am always humbled by feedback like that because while I do this mainly for my own educational and personal development I would be lying if I said I’d continue with such passion if nobody read it. There is a certain insanity that comes from continued talking to ones self so I am grateful to you for your part in keeping me sane. However, I shall not let it go to my head 🙂

  4. March 3, 2013 6:15 am

    I appreciate that you’ve taken time to muse with us regarding this issue. I’m currently developing a line of cosmetics and have to deal with this issue every day. It is a struggle, and a bit of a war – I like the term ‘info-wars’ which is lifted from our local black helicopter fear monger/prophet Alex Jones, depending on your perspective 😉 I think this is very much directly related to our current place in time – the information age. There is so much information, but, like you said, we’re still limited by time. Therefore, the two converge and have created chaos. Add into the mix money, power and greed, and you get a volatile combination.
    Personally, I’m not driven by mis-information. I pay attention to it, create responses to address concerns. However, my driving force is to create products that are as safe as I can create that will stand up to abuse once it leaves my hands. If this means using ingredients that are on the ‘evil chemical’ list, but I know they are safe and effective – well, I don’t want to risk safety over fear. I see this as the greater moral imperative.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 3, 2013 7:35 am

      Thanks for your feedback and good luck with your range.
      An exampe of my position in action is this. I formulate for around 15 brands on a regular basis and while I am not against any chemical I have never used parabens in any formulations. Not because I think that they are bad but because of what I prefer to think of as fashion. Putting parabens into a product to preserve it these days would be like trying to sell guns and roses t shirts to hipsters.
      With other chemicals such as petroleum derivatives my formulating focus is purely on sustainability.
      With surfactants and the SLS/SLES debate I focus my energy on creating low cost, low irritant but highly efficient and easy to thicken systems. This is a huge challenge and one I don’t feel I’ve mastered yet but I’m getting there.
      As an applied science working in an area of fashion we must stay connected to the market but that doesn’t mean we then sell out and contribute to miss information and propaganda just to fit in.
      Finally I Agree that safety over fear is paramount which is why I feel there could be a resurgence of parabens. I’m keeping my eye on dermatological data following the boom in more natural preservation……

      • March 9, 2013 3:00 am

        Thank you for the encouragement with my range! I love your analogy of selling guns and roses t shirts to hipsters 😮 I totally agree that we have to stay connected to the market and pay attention to fashion. It makes our job interesting and sometimes maddening, depending on the day, ha!

        The paraben issue is one of the more interesting and challenging projects. The more natural systems that have been developed are a fun and interesting expansion of the formulator’s ingredient palette; however, there are some situations where parabens are just the best solution. I predict that it will take years for public opinion and fashion to accept a resurgence of parabens – would not be surprised at all if this happens eventually.

        Would love to see some posts about what you think of some of the more natural preservative systems available to us.
        I adore your blog and am so grateful for your attention to it! Thank you!

  5. March 3, 2013 10:04 am

    Hey Amanda,

    I think you do a great job. I work in your industry and we all have our own opinions on ingredients and product development. Some opinions are based on science and research some are based on experience and some are based on what people want to believe. Your opinions will matter to some and not to others. Keep on sharing Amanda, your opinions do matter!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 3, 2013 11:55 am

      Thanks Melissa. I agree that differing personal opinions, motivation and taste should be embraced as that is what keeps us on our toes and gives us a market. However, in my opinion personal opinions should not be used to feed a political agenda, opinions can motivate us to act and can be used to form a framework but the content needs to be filled from a different head space to avoid falling into the confirmation bias trap. Onwards and upwards!

  6. March 7, 2013 6:03 am

    Amen to that. We need this sort of deep and considered intellectual engagement and exchange in many spheres of life, including cosmetic chemistry.

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