Toxic. It's a word that is being bandied about so much at the moment that it can feel like we’re stuck in a bad dream with a Britney song on repeat.
But when it comes to the everyday products that we use in our homes and on our bodies, what does it mean to be ‘Non-Toxic’ and does ‘Chemical Free’ really exist? We sent our everything-for-the-blog correspondent to find out.
Let's debunk our first myth of the day. Chemical-free doesn’t exist. If you see this spurious claim in anyone's marketing send them our way. They’ll incur the wrath of Neil from Accounts, who feels more strongly about this than he does about missing receipts.
In fact, the Royal Society of Chemistry has a £1million prize waiting, unclaimed, for anyone who can show them a product that is truly chemical free. If we’d pulled that off we wouldn’t be here late at night writing this blog.
Everything is made of chemicals. Everything we eat, consume, touch and feel can be broken down into its chemical compounds from cotton and rubber to wine and water (H2-Oh yeah..)
The morning coffee you might be slurping on as you’re reading this has over 1000 chemical compounds in it, some that might even be classified as ‘potentially harmful’ or even ‘toxic’ if ingested at certain levels or concentrations.
So after that whistle stop tour of the periodic table, if everything is made up of chemicals why are consumers so concerned with toxicity and what does that word even mean?
Allow us to start high-brow, with Swiss physician Paracelsus, whose maxim “The Dose makes the poison” is one of the basic principles of toxicology. The basic idea being that all things can be considered poison but the key to determining toxicity is the dosage and exposure.
Fast forward 500 years to the boffins in Brussels and we now have wide ranging EU regulation controlling the sale of substances defined as being “Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or having reproductive toxic effects”.
In Homethings speak, that basically means they ain’t good for you.
The good news is that this EU regulation gives us far better protections than those afforded to our American pals. In cosmetics alone, the EU has banned over 1,300 substances while the US has banned just 11.
But, should we be smug sitting this side of the pond + spraying around the asbestos-domestos safe in the knowledge that the EU has our back. The answer is, of course, probably not. And with frequent public health scares such as the Roundup scandal, it's easy to see why consumers are sceptical of the chemicals in everyday products peddled by ‘big business’.
Additionally, despite the EUs stringent rules on labelling products, shoppers still find that many labels are about as transparent as Bojo on a blind date.
Add to that the unregulated nature of claims that brands can make from ‘Plant Based’ to ‘Natural’, it’s no wonder that it can be a minefield for shoppers.
The Homethings Take (for what it's worth)
A great resource to use if you’re concerned about gobbledygook on the back of a pack is the database at EWG. Punch in the ingredient name and it’ll give you a toxicity rating across three separate measures for Cancer, Development + Reproductive Toxicity and Allergies + Immunotoxicity.
If you are concerned about toxicity, the key is to ask the questions directly to the brands you buy from and to do the research. Make sure you are getting your information from reputable sources with facts based on peer reviewed science and not just ‘because Gwyneth Paltrow says so..’
Our belief is that the fewer harsh chemicals you use around your home, the better. Cleaning the shower tray doesn’t mean you should get dizzee off bleach whilst you're at it and don’t let the Hinchers tell you otherwise. Buster the dog will thank you for it. And cleaning a surface doesn’t mean that you should Via-kill everything in your path. Some bacteria is good for you.
When formulating our products we’ve held ourselves to the strictest standards on both environment, ethics, toxicity and transparency. All our ingredients will be listed on our website and we’re going to be building out a glossary of common terms used so that you can easily navigate concerns based on facts and not Gobbledy-Goop.
Love + Sense
* Disclaimer - The world of chemistry and formulation development is full of nuance and complications. We are not formulation experts but offering an opinion based on our research and understanding of the current landscape having worked with formulation experts and chemists to develop our products.
We’d love to hear your comments or queries via firstname.lastname@example.org