greenwashing (3): toxicity

And now, onto something completely different–or rather, indifferent, as it is rather silly. Toxins.

RANT #1: “Careful of that toxic toxin stuff…”

[The issue: shaky nomenclature–including what I’ve come to think of as The O-Word and The Other N-Word. The original question: “Does (X) use 100% organic skin care ingredients…? Or they are just natural…? And is the packaging free of toxics…?” Sigh. No: groan.
Also: DO PEOPLE NOT DO SCIENCE AT SCHOOL THESE DAYS? AM I GETTING OLD?? I wouldn’t have asked such a stupid question out of primary school; it would have been unthinkable. And even if in a deprived part of the world–and, alas, many parts of the “first world” have become areas of educational and rational deprivation–we’re living in the 21st century. There are still a few libraries around. There is the wondrous interweb, at our fingertips. Humans still mostly have brains. What gives???]

For some [ingredients], “organic” is irrelevant (ex. minerals made out of rocks); almost all their oils and other plant-based ingredients are organic, and they always say if they are or they aren’t.

Same is true of the other main suppliers. Much of a muchness–and many of them buy stuff from the same wholesalers or manufacturers (or indeed farmers’ coops etc.) anyway.

All the companies [mentioned by OP] do state clearly and categorically whether or not any item is organic, as in, produced by organic agriculture. That’s regulated by law, especially in the US where most of these companies mentioned are based.

Note for the record: mineral oil is “organic”–as petroleum, from which petrochemicals are distilled and refined, pre-dates non-organic agriculture. It’s also chemically (i.e. properly, proper-sense) “organic” in that it’s a hydrocarbon.

“Natural” will usually be clear from what the thing is: ex. 100% pure sunflower seed oil contains only sunflower seed oil, made from sunflower seeds. But the definition of “natural” is not legally regulated. A safe middle-of-the-road definition (I hope!): natural = made from plants and other things in nature: think of the game “animal – vegetable – mineral.” An extreme would be wild-crafting plant material only: only using stuff picked off the ground, from trees, etc.: raw, no transformation allowed.

[Not black and white: shades of grey, a sliding scale. See earlier re. perils of absolutism…]

Note for the record: mineral oil is “natural,” being derived from petroleum, formed in turn from fossilized natural materials: plankton, algae. Which were once, poor things, “organic” too, in the organic life-form sense.

Now, I can see how this might be an issue if one had some bizarre wacky objection to transformation–by man or, in this case, also by nature; if one was ignorant of even basic science, and therefore scared of it, and therefore attacked in self-defence.

Also, I’m aware that there’s a growing number of younger people who’ve been educated a-scientifically and anti-science; quite aside from choosing to “study easy subjects.” The paradox of anti-education education, anti-individual individualism, resulting in the production of a mass of blissfully ignorant people who are anti-science, anti-education, anti-knowledge, anti-“intellectualism.” And anti-questioning, because asking questions–rather than just bashing–is at the core of science, Socratic-method education, knowledge, and the intellect.

It’s scary, as it’s more 1929 than 1848.

On things being natural vs. unnatural, and lab-made being capable of being chemically identical to hand-crafted, see also [rants 2 & 3 below…]

Packaging free of toxins: well, there would be more than one answer to that.

1. things like glass are anyway. Paper mostly fine. Waxed paper usually fine. Plasticated paper and plastics: many but not all are PVC-free; if unsure, ask the manufacturer.

2. all these people have to use packaging that’s legal; and legal standards, in most countries, include not using toxins.

3. if you’re worried about the kinds of things that get called “toxins” or “chemicals” on scare-mongering fear-manipulating sites like the EWG (and, sadly, many otherwise perfectly good companies, e-sellers, second-rate scientifically-illiterate journalists, and so on…): please don’t be. This is not truth. It’s not facts. It’s evil attempts to manipulate you.

Don’t believe the toxin nonsense–and don’t take my word for it, because that wouldn’t be properly sceptical either!!–have a read of these:
http://www.badscience.net/
http://thebeautybrains.com/
http://colinsbeautypages.co.uk/
http://www.dcscience.net/
http://gimpyblog.wordpress.com/
http://www.quackwatch.org/
(and science textbooks)

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RANT #2

This was a board response where I was being a bit more tactful and less snarky than usual, in response to yet another daft  someone looking for a non-toxic thingamajig wotsit.

It all hinges on what *you* mean by “toxic” and “poisons”

Obviously, it’s entirely up to you what you want from a product, and want to avoid, as you’re the one using it! But I’m afraid it’s simply not going to be as clear-cut as “this is the good list” and “this is the bad list,” because there are no such definitive lists in existence.

Here’s the problem.

“Toxic” and “poison” are legally-defined terms in environmental law (depending on the country), and on substances permitted in goods for human consumption (mainly food; some regulation, again depending on country, on cosmetics, skincare, hair stuff, etc.). And there are concrete factual definitions, in medicine, biochemistry, and the environmental sciences. The latter (science) are the basis for the former (law).

There are also about a million definitions and uses running around the net, urban myth, popular folklore, and so on. (My grandmothers believed the most extraordinary things–while in other respects being very sensible, rational, intelligent people.)

Popular definitions (and fear-mongering) have been used and abused on a massive scale recently; that I’m personally aware of, over at least the last 20 years.

Partly out of genuine concern for fellow human beings and the environment, of course, and especially in countries (ex. the USA) where government authority (inc. legislature) is tainted by vested interests and their pressure groups: so making money is more important than protecting citizens, land, and planet.

But partly also to make money, greenwash, and manipulate consumers. I remember the first time I felt manipulated by marketing. I was angry. I also remember, more recently, stopping buying Burt’s Bees when their advertising turned aggressive, nasty, and untrue.

You’ll meet many views and opinions and loves and hates. On MUA, elsewhere on the web, in shops, from sales assistants and beauticians, from doctors, … Many of them are subjective, irrational, based on primal fears rather than any actual evidence.

It can be difficult to differentiate the personal and rhetorical, from, well, (cough) the truth.

It can also be difficult because–on some matters–there is no absolute truth right now. Because it takes time to test theories out properly–in practice, in experiments, gather results, interpret them, put them together with data from other experiments, do meta-data studies, publish, pass the test of being peer-reviewed in journals, and so on.

In most legislatures there is still some obligation for academic science to be free and fair. Again, depends on the country or region: but honestly–I say this as an academic myself–not all places work like the Great Powers during the Cold War… though I’m all for suspicion and scepticism!!!

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RANT #3

This was a bit more succinct. Although I hate myself for doing an ad auctoritatem. Sometimes, needs must…

This [the original reference was to] is an abuse of the word “toxic.”

Here, for example, is the OED (definitive, authoritative) definition.

Though to be fair this kind of use of the t-word wouldn’t be out of place in the 17th century; or indeed the later 19th, in the grand heyday of patent-medicine quackery, when things like galvanism were fashionable.

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