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Define Chemical.

June 28, 2017

I am not going to bore you with the line ‘as a chemist, I appreciate that everything is a chemical’ even though I just did.  No, I’m going to share with you a definition of ‘chemical’ that  I just thought up. The idea came to me when I was thinking about gardening and is  based on how we define a weed:

Weed: A wild plant growing where it is not wanted.

Such a simple set of words that say so much!  This one sentence conveys a message that plants can be both wanted and not wanted, that they can grow wild or be cultivated and that the only thing separating a weed from a ‘good’ plant is that a weed decides when and where to grow and not you.  Taking this extrapolation one stage further we can easily imagine a scenario when a plant is defined as a weed in one setting and a ‘good’ plant in another.  I think that is really neat, very cleaver and extremely useful. The use of the word ‘wild’ is also cool as it helps us to foster a sense that these plants are untamed and somewhat outside of our rules and control, that by definition there is something unknown and maybe even unknowable about them.

I was thinking about how good it would be if we could accept chemicals in that way.

Chemical: an ingredient that contributes a level of risk to a formula, perceived or real, that  outweighs its benefit. 

So we accept that chemicals are ingredients and that ingredients are chemical but that some ingredients come with levels of formula-dependent risks that others do not. This is good as it allows us to develop a tangible risk (or cost) assessment platform.  The mention of a formula reminds us that ingredients (AKA chemicals) are needed in order to create a formula (product) and that we expect these formulas to deliver a measurable benefit (or, at the least, present next to no risk).  The idea of ‘level of risk’ leads us to conclude that there is a way of measuring or ranking the risks posed and relating that back to the individual formula and that this measure can form the basis for a logical decision-making process.  Talk of a formula also allows us to imagine a world where an ingredient might be classed as a ‘chemical’ in one formula but as a mere ingredient in another (where the benefits outweigh the perceived or real risks).

My hope is that if this catches on we can start having more meaningful discussions about formulating and ingredient choices that result in better products and not just products that are perceived to be better only because they are ‘free from’ this, that or the other. Surely a measured and measurable assessment is preferable to the baseless hype and hysteria. But I do wonder if there is  a real worry in brand ownership circles that the hype is just that, empty and baseless?  Whatever the case I know that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it – OMG that sounds so corporate!

Now of course, as a chemist I am going to balk just a little at the bastardization  of the word ‘chemical’ but what else would you expect from me?

Amanda x


One Comment leave one →
  1. Ric permalink
    June 30, 2017 12:25 pm

    I like it!

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