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Chemical Reaction: Constructive Criticism

By: Steve Herman
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

“Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word ‘safe’ that I wasn’t previously aware of.” —Douglas Adams

There are people who don’t like various aspects of our business. There are those opposed to science in general. Then there is a rather larger group who are against chemicals. Never mind all that carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in their bodies, they want “chemical-free” products. There is a significant group who take issue with the safety of many chemicals used in personal care products, and especially some specific components such as parabens, sulfates and phthalates.

There is a vocal group of consumers who are against the use of fragrances. Lest you think they are all unscientific fanatics, remember that there are a lot of cosmetics that boast of being “fragrance free.” It is a complicated and emotional situation, with no simple solution. We certainly must be aware of the varied aspersions cast upon us. We need to make the safest possible products, and then it is critical to communicate that fact clearly to our customers and the general public.

Since you are reading this, we at least know that the Large Hadron Collider did not create a black hole and swallow the Earth, but suspicion of science continues. In 2001, the American Chemical Council started a “good chemistry” campaign placing emphasis on “chemistry” rather than “chemicals.” Dow Chemical launched its “Human Element” (Hu) campaign in 2006 to promote the benefits of chemistry. A key feature of Dow’s campaign was the insertion of Hu into the periodic table. The rise of green chemistry is certainly a positive trend, but it may be too technical in its essential nature to influence the attitudes of the general public.

A recent blast at our industry is Stacy Malkan’s book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.1 While most of it is not pleasant reading, it would be foolish to not consider some of the positive ideas it contains. If we jump to chapters 10 and 11, Malkan offers some inspiring ideas for future product development and brings us up to date with the activities of Horst Rechelbacher, while introducing the benefits of biomimicry.