greenwashing (2): chemicals and synthetics

Greenwashing is dishonest; but issues should not be confused: one such confusion is the idea that synthetics are evil. Which is rubbish. Worse: it’s dangerous rubbish.


I hate it when creative marketing misleads people.

Yes, I agree that this is dishonest. It’s a sad thing, when a company like Korres starts out as a traditional apothecary, gets bigger, expands worldwide, acquires international BS-mongers, and changes its product range. They do still have some of their older products–or variations on them–but much has been lost.

But I have a quibble about synthetics, which some might consider to be trivial or semantics, and I think is important.

From a scientific point of view–cosmetic chemistry included–there is nothing intrinsically, essentially wrong with synthetics.

What’s evil here is scientific ignorance; and companies taking advantage of customer ignorance, turning fear of the unknown into loathing and disgust. This is another part of greenwashing.

Disgust at synthetics is also a serious danger, at a social and societal, political, and cultural level: refusal and rejection of science and reason. This is beyond the paradoxical and bizarre given the free availability of information (libraries, online) and individual freedom, in much of the world, for people to educate themselves.

Knowledge is power. And responsibility. And freedom.

For more on chemophobia, see here: [I rant and rave and rage about this frequently. Fear of science, and the embrace of pseudoscience and quackery, are dangerous and evil: to feminism, to civilization, to human survival as a species, and to the Very Future of All Things.]

Free of chemicals= impossible, as everything in existence is made out of chemicals. Even you, air, the purest cleanest untainted mountain air, etc. Anyone selling products claiming they’re “chemical-free” or words to that effect is either ignorant or a charlatan, more often the latter and preying on popular scientific ignorance / lack of basic education, to abuse lack of knowledge, to the benefits if fear-mongering and the lining of their own pockets. And I’m afraid that this sort of unethical, exploitative behaviour is as common amongst greener companies as less-green, more mainstream ones. Especially pernicious on baby and child products, taking advantage of parents’ natural protective instincts

Every time there’s a temptation to say “urgh, synthetics, gross” maybe have a thought for poor girls living in repressive countries under a very real threat of death for even just *wanting* education. They’d die–many do, literally–to be in our privileged shoes.

It seems to me to be insulting to the educationally oppressed *not* to go and look stuff up I don’t know, or half-know, or when I have a hunch I might be misusing it, have misunderstood, be falling into someone else’s greenwashing. Some might call it distrust of The Man to the point of paranoia, I call it healthy scepticism. And completely in the same spirit as your observation about greenwashing in Korres’ marketing.




adjective derived from past participle of SYNTHESIZE, vb.
a. trans. To make a synthesis of; to put together or combine into a complex whole; to make up by combination of parts or elements. Also absol. (Opposed to analyse n.)
b. Chem. To produce (a compound, esp. an organic compound) by synthesis.


(In most senses opposed to analytic n. and adj.)
1. Logic, Philos., etc. Proceeding from causes or general principles to consequences or particular instances; deductive: cf. synthesis n. 1.
2.a. Chem. Pertaining to or involving synthesis; of organic compounds, produced by artificial synthesis: see synthesis n. 4.
b. Of a substance: made by chemical synthesis in imitation of a natural product (cf. syn- comb. form). Also, esp. of a man-made fibre or fabric: made from synthetic materials rather than natural ones (cf. man-made adj.).
c. fig. Artificial, imitation, invented.
[3 grammatical & 4. Kantian special uses]
5. a. Of, pertaining to, consisting in, or involving synthesis, or combination of parts into a whole; constructive.
b. Concerned with or using synthesis.
6. Grammar and Philol. Characterized by combination of simple words or elements into compound or complex words; expressing a complex notion by a single compounded or complex word instead of by a number of distinct words. (Opposed to analytical adj. 5)
[senses 6 et seq are, like 6, special/specific uses derived from the principal ones]


(senses 1 & 4, referred to above)
1. Logic, Philos., etc.
a. The action of proceeding in thought from causes to effects, or from laws or principles to their consequences. (Opposed to analysis n. 3)
b. In philosophical systems influenced by Hegelian ideas, the final stage of a triadic progression in which an idea is proposed, then negated, and finally transcended by a new idea that resolves the conflict between the first and its negation.
4. a. Chem. Formation of a compound by combination of its elements or constituents; esp. applied to artificial production in this way of organic compounds formerly obtained by extraction from natural products. (Opposed to analysis n. 11)
b. Physics. Production of white or other compound light by combination of its constituent colours, or of a complex musical sound by combination of its component simple tones. (Cf. analysis n. 12.)
[5. Kant]
6. a. In wider philosophical use and gen. The putting together of parts or elements so as to make up a complex whole; the combination of immaterial or abstract things, or of elements into an ideal or abstract whole. (Opposed to analysis n. 2a) Also, the state of being put so together.
b. A body of things put together; a complex whole made up of a number of parts or elements united.

You get the gist…

Human agency and transformation are key elements. Anything else, any sense of this being negative or icky, is value-judgement and loading not present in the actual root basic meaning of the word–connotation vs. denotation.



The 2nd sense of chemically-identical substance made in test-tube can be environmentally better

ex. synthetic rose.
A rose is a rose is a rose: doesn’t matter
[EDITED TO PRECISIFY: doesn’t matter *to its essential rose-ness*–it could of course matter for other reasons: supporting organic agriculture, small farmers, more environmentally-sound fertilizers, etc.]
whether it’s natural or not, or indeed organic or not: the two main components in rose oil, especially for fragrance purposes, are geraniol and l-citronellol.
Geraniol = 3,7-Dimethylocta-2,6-dien-1-ol = C10H18O
Citronellol = 3,7-Dimethyloct-6-en-1-ol = C10H20O
and that’s what they are, and remain, by definition, and what defines them and their nature and essence–chemically, absolutely.

Such synthesized molecules can be a very good thing in the case of substituting for ingredients that are hard to grow and environmentally damaging.

Roses are one: need intensively-produced acres of fields to yield a small amount of oil, when the land might be better used otherwise (and more biodiversity-sustaining, with more crop rotations, etc.).

The standard plant oils used in lots of cosmetics and skincare are another: give me synthesized versions rather than ethically and environmentally disastrous palm and soybean oils anyday.
Palm oil chemical components = see
Soybean, see

It’s not uncommon to have an aversion to things made in test-tubes, in labs. This is psychological. Emotional. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with feeling things, and taking one’s feelings and other subjective factors into account when deciding what to like, use, buy, and so on. But it’s important to be aware that these factors are psychological, emotional, subjective, instinctual; that they are completely distinct from material physical scientific facts and reason, and neither equivalent to nor a substitute for them.

One comment

  1. Clare

    Will this involve the 30 second shower? I tried these and they are possible on non-hairwashing days:D

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