1. Are all chemicals nasty?
  2. Can a pacifist ever  be an activist?
  3. Can you teach a dog to pick up his own poop?

These questions have been rolling around inside my brain like marbles in a pinball machine all day, partly because it’s raining and I’m not motivated enough to do anything else except think but also because every week I see and/or hear something about one or another ‘nasty cosmetic chemical/product’ and this week I wanted to give it some more thought.  So here we go…….

My art

In the beginning this blog was motivated by one thing – helping people to realise their natural beauty and potential and to engage with the personal care/ beauty industry in a healthy  and empowered way. That mission still stands.  However, the small print of my big mission was coming from a place of hope,  hope that I could help people see that not all chemicals are bad, toxic or ‘nasty’,  that even some of  the ‘nasties’  have their time and place and that it’s unrealistic to think that the cosmetics industry (or any industry for that matter) is motivated by a desire to kill their client base.

However, after quickly tiring both of the anger directed at anyone who poses counter arguments to the ‘toxic’ debate and the monotony and boredom of reading the exchanges that go on between the ‘toxic and nasty’ and the  ‘Trust me I’m a scientist”  mob I started to question my personal stance and motivation, was there any benefit in playing that game or fighting that fight???

Especially given that:

  • People don’t like being told what to think.
  • People don’t like to feel stupid and telling them something that goes against their ‘gut’ feeling or popular opinion makes them nervous.
  • Most people are time poor.
  • Most people believe the old adage  ‘there’s no smoke without fire’  and  feel happy to use this to  justify adopting the ‘precautionary principle’ rather than research each and every doubt.
  • We are talking about non-essential purchases here that we can all live without.
  • I don’t like fighting.

I don’t like fighting?


I used to think that my not liking fighting was a sign that I was secretly passive aggressive and that maybe I took my ‘fight’ out in other ways but after 5 years of pacifism on this blog and at work (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a mo), 13 years of peaceful and happy marriage, 12 years of average (could always be better) but relatively diplomatic parenting and a lifetime of not picking fights (well, there was this one time……..)   I now know that isn’t true. I don’t like fighting, I don’t bottle up my ‘fight’ and I really don’t see the point in outsourcing my sense of self to others (surely we only fight when we feel threatened?). In short, people calling out ‘toxic chemicals’ citing studies that I know to be flawed and bias to only a small part of one side of a story no longer bothers the heart of me.  My blood doesn’t boil and I don’t want to teach them a lesson.  But that doesn’t mean I do nothing as I will explain.

Not fighting is very, very important to me and once I re-thought my own motivations I started to see why.

Really what motivates me most is the process towards understanding through cradle-to-grave thinking.  I like and am drawn to areas of controversy and ‘greyness’ because these places really make me think.  So, what do I think?  What do I think about parabens?  About SLS, Propylene Glycol, Petroleum based ingredients, Perfumes, silicones and a thousand and one other things?  The truth is I don’t ‘think’ anything per se.  I don’t have a militant position. I am not un-moving.  My brain is open for business.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that”  Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 

If I was to tell you that ‘nasty chemical A’  is fine,  I know it don’t cause cancer, it is always safe and I don’t know what the fuss is all about I would be lying.

Further, substituting ‘nasty chemical A’ for lavender essential oil wouldn’t make my mind any clearer.  I wouldn’t know about that either.

So I know nothing?

Of course not, I know what I know and I seek to understand the limits, boundaries and context of what others that I come across know.   I have read and continue to seek out, read and question the safety of ingredients used in cosmetic products. I haven’t got time to do this all of the time for every chemical but I do do it.  Further more being self-employed and being that my research and writing is self-funded and ‘free’ I can choose to investigate, test and write about whatever I goddamn please.  Of course I am aware of bias and being a person like any other the list above is as relevant to me as it is to an ‘anti-nasty chemicals activist’.   However, the integrity and success of my business rests on my ability to overcome and challenge that as what I am paid for is my ability to question, research and deliver a full, rounded appraisal of a situation.  I know this, I know that I don’t always get it 100% right but neither do I get it all wrong.

And that’s why I am a pacifist as far as the ‘war’ on nasty chemicals is concerned.

Pacifism:  The belief that violence of any kind is unjustifiable and that one should not participate in war.

Every day of my working life I am reminded of the fact that a war against ‘chemical nasties’ exists.  I know this because the soldiers on this front line, the activists keep on producing ‘data’, adverts, posters, articles and the like.

Activism:  A policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end, especially a political or social one.

Militance:  Fighting or warring. Having a combative character; or aggressive, especially in the service of a cause.


peas growing

From where I sit there is no need for war but there is a need for deep and considered  intellectual engagement and exchange.

We don’t need militant activism, we need diligent investigation.

No more fear-inciting, recycled one-dimensional rants and more positive, balanced solution-centered truths.

Less opinion and more fact.

Quite frankly we need to do more free, unfettered, a-political science.

Just wake me up when you find that lab and I’ll be there.

In the meantime I’ll just keep on writing as it helps me to get my head around things.  If it helps you too then that’s great.


PS: The answers to my questions (in my opinion) are:

  1. it depends
  2. it depends
  3. no

PPS: I happen to think that some chemicals can help to create beauty. As I couldn’t find any great pictures of chemical pacifism I decided to shower my article with images from my life this week where chemistry has been employed in this way. I love it 🙂

Pic 1: Some artwork that I did to decorate our sewing room.  Without chemistry these paints would not exist. Some might say that it doesn’t matter, we could use beetroot, carrot or ochre? Yes we could.

Pic 2: This yummy food is wholesome and natural and so the chemistry I want to think about here isn’t about the ingredients, it is about cooking.  Without an appreciation of a foods chemistry it would be very difficult to create master pieces like this.  Great chefs are also great scientists.

Pic 3: These baby dolls were made by my daughter but we also have to thank textile chemistry for creating such amazing fabrics, colours and thread.

Pic 4:  These baby pea plants are growing without additional chemicals but that said the soil has been improved by addition of a natural, organic friendly potting mix. Without a knowledge of chemistry that soil could kill rather than nurture our little plants.