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ABC Catalyst – Our Chemical Lives

April 1, 2015

Here in Australia we have a science program for adults called ‘Catalyst’ that delves into science-based issues and questions that affect our daily lives. This weeks they looked at ‘our chemical lives‘.  I watched, thinking I would find it interesting – not least because I’m currently sporting a chemically triggered skin rash –  and it was interesting in parts but I also found it very disturbing.  I wasn’t disturbed by the doom and gloom ‘we are toxicated’ message, I get that, we actually are and I don’t like it AND yes, it is sure to be having an impact on both our immediate and long-term health and the health of our planet  no, I was disturbed at the way what I thought was an open-minded, investigative piece of journalism had opted for fear to sell this message prompting me to jump to the conclusion that the take home message from this program was that ‘chemicals are bad’.   Not very scientific and rather irresponsible given that everything is chemical…..

I heard phrases like this ‘so without adequate testing of the safety of chemicals, are we in the midst of an uncontrolled human experiment?’


“chemicals are viewed as safe until proved otherwise’.


“the chemical soup of modern life’

All set against a backdrop of oppressive, gloomy music and images of heavily pregnant ladies (some sporting tattoo’s which is great but I do wonder when people will realise that there is more lead and crud in a tattoo than in the average lipstick that we get so upset about AND a tattoo goes straight under your skin….)  and sweet little children applying dress-up make-up.

I just wanted to put it out there for anyone wondering what kind of sadistic bar Stuards we all are that work in the chemical industry that we are normal people with families and pets, just like you.

Most of the experts that took part made some valid and concerning points concerning chemicals that are deeply problematic and need addressing but I did feel that the programming team did go for the cheap, emotional trigger angle rather than those that might actually make a difference.  I say this as when the program took blood samples from their presenter and a ‘green living author’ they found that the levels of chemicals in both women’s bodies was only slightly below that of the average Australian woman – the presenter hadn’t been taking any special measures to avoid chemical exposure while the green living author had spent lots of time researching cosmetics, cleaning products and food packaging and gone out of her way to avoid ‘nasties’.

I understand why people do this – make their own cleaners from bicarb and vinegar, use Rosehip oil instead of moisturising cream, mineral make-up instead of that silicone gunk.  It’s all good, it’s all fun but I doubt it will change our chemical world.

Well I thought I’d jump on this fear bandwagon and tell you what I think as why not, everybody else is and some even disguise it as ‘investigative journalism’……

My top tips to a chemical-light life.

  • Avoid tattoo’s.  Tattoo ink of the type used at your friendly local tattoo shop is not regulated with anywhere near the vigour of the big bad cosmetics industry and being as though you are injecting pigments that often contain lead and other heavy metals right into your skin you might want to do your research on that.
  • Plastic is bad – we know that BPA is bad and yes, there is a likelihood that those ‘BPA free’ alternatives are not quite as lovely either.  But do you know what’s really bad?  PLASTIC, that’s what.  OK not all plastic  (some is made from sugar and potato these days) but generally speaking your plastic of any kind is made from all the stuff we green (or wannabe green) folks hate and that also includes plasticisers such as pthalates which, by the way, I’ve never used in my 18 years of being a cosmetic chemist and yet programs like Catalyst are still saying that pthalates are big in cosmetics…..
  • Clothing.  Yes people, clothing is TERRIBLE for your skin.  I am being a bit of a wally here but did you read in the news the other week about how AZO dyes in cheap, imported clothing is leading to people developing rashes and all kinds of problems.  Badly made cheap clothing is going to put your chemical load right up there .
  • Fast food is TERRIBLE.  If you follow me around the supermarket, especially on a bad day you will find me piling up my basket with those ready made curries and other niceties.  I am a SUCKER for them but they might just be killing me – who knows!  Anyway, heating your plastic container full of food in a microwave is probably going to result in you dying.  In fact yes, yes it will kill you for sure, 100% – I guarantee that you will die within 100 years of eating a plastic container full of supermarket curry. Ha.
  • Any food that isn’t fresh and organic – OK even organic food isn’t as good as it used to be but seriously who has the time or money to eat this way?  If you do you might just live forever but I don’t so I’m working 20 hours a day so that I can get my 70 years in early 🙂
  • Live on a tropical island far, far away from any first world country.  Speaks for its self really doesn’t it?

I’m sure there are more things that we can do but when we seriously sit back and think about the BIG TICKET POLLUTION items in our lives I can almost bet my arm (by left one) that your cosmetics aren’t one of them.  ‘Oh yes of course you would say that’ you will cry and you can cry that if you like.  I am rather bias aren’t I?  But I believe that bias comes with more than just a sprinkling of truth.

The world IS full of chemicals and yes we did go a bit chemical crazy post world war one and yes I do wish we hadn’t and DDT, BPA, endocrine disruptors in general, plastics, petrochemcials and much more besides are all things that the planet probably weeps over but please, please believe that the chemical industry is NOT running experiments on your children’s lives because nobody involved in that type of business cares, tests or gives a damn.  Yes the chemical industry has been involved in some major league stuff ups and tragedies but it has also been the instigator of much progress and positivity,  including medicines (yes I know, not all good),  some aspects of the technology that makes our lives safer and more diverse than ever before, breathable fabrics,  glow-in-the-dark pavements to help us stay safe at night and my all-time favourite the chocolate that doesn’t make you fat.  Maybe I just made that one up.

Onwards and upwards.

Amanda x


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Siobhan permalink
    April 1, 2015 4:22 pm

    I have been really disappointed in Catalyst lately. Over the past few years it has gone downhill from a proper informative science program to being a step above Today Tonight in scaremongering. I think it was the episode about sugar being poison which was the last straw for me. Why, Catalyst, why?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 1, 2015 4:28 pm

      So I’m not the only one then…..
      I did see the sugar episode and yes, that has become a bit of a band wagon although we do eat way too much of it – way more than is natural, especially the refined white stuff. It’s the shred of truth wrapped up in a blanket of sensationalism approach that get’s my back up. Especially when it is so hard to get any real science funding.

  2. April 2, 2015 12:37 am

    Great post and so true. It’s happening in Canada too. I was at a consumer/trade show this past weekend, that is supposedly devoted to “green living” (i.e. sustainable and eco-friendly products and services) and many exhibitors were using fear of anything chemical to sell their wares, with many using the marketing line “chemical free”. It was ridiculous but I didn’t have the strength to argue with them, there were just too many people using that line.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 2, 2015 2:09 am

      When the whole world is set of a culture of dumbing down it is very hard to keep up the fight for depth of thought and rationality. It’s a shame as the only way we can really get achieve a safer, cleaner, greener earth is to think and engage on a much deeper level. I hope we all have the staminer to keep on fighting for that 🙂

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