No Such Thing As Chemical Free In Cleaning & Beauty Products. Really. Really really.

Fingers cross

Cross my heart – there is no such thing as “chemical free” when it comes to cleaning and beauty products. Unless you bought a product that just contains a vacuum – nothingness. Because if it was just air, it would still have chemicals.


Really really.

A “chemical” is a material with a specific chemical composition. Like water, whether it is found in nature or manufactured in a laboratory, is always 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom, or H20. Now, there are some refinements to that. For example, in organic chemistry, there can be more than one chemical compound with the same composition and molecular weight. These chemicals are known as isomers. You actually know this. Really. Glucose and fructose are isomers. Both have the same molecular formula but differ structurally.

Okay, enough chemistry. Basically, all you need to know is that a chemical is a material with a specific chemical composition.

So, if a product contains water, it contains a chemical. If it contains propylene glycol, it contains a chemical.

But, lately, I have seen a TON of products claiming to be chemical free. Take Blue Lizard’s Baby Sunscreen. It claims it is chemical free and fragrance free. Yet, here are the ingredients:

Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (10%), Titanium Dioxide (5%)

Inactive Ingredients: Water Purified, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Polyglyceryl 4 Isostearate, Cetyl PEG/PPG 10/1 Dimethicone, Hexyl Laurate, Propylene Glycol, Cetyl Dimethicone, Trimethylated Silica/Dimethicone, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer, Methyl Glucose Dioleate, PEG 7 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sorbitol Oleate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Beeswax (Apis Mellifera), Stearic Acid, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Diazolidinyl Urea, Tocopheryl Acetate

Take a close look at the ingredients. Does that really seem chemical free to you? So the two active ingredients – although naturally occurring minerals – they are chemicals. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both chemicals. (Although in sunscreens, they work by providing a barrier, as opposed to chemical sunscreens.)

The first inactive ingredient – water – is a chemical. Water is H20. Always. So it is a chemical.

Then we can pick on all the other synthetic ingredients too.

It has skin penetrants – the PEG/PPG ingredients. It has lots and lots of petroleum based ingredients, such as propylene glycol. And it has 2 parabens, something many individuals are avoiding.

So if you see a beauty or household cleaning product claiming to be chemical free, be wary. If the company is going to make that blatantly false a claim, then what else is it doing?

If the company is claiming all natural ingredients, or no harsh chemicals or something similar, that is a different issue. It may well be true – it all depends on your definition since “all natural” and “no harsh chemicals” are not legal or regulated terms.

But chemical free? That is just a lie. Unless the company is selling you absolutely nothing. Because even water is a chemical.

Don’t be fooled. Even natural products must contain chemicals.

And, by the way, natural doesn’t mean safer by any stretch of the imagination. Arsenic and lead both are natural.

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  1. How about tea tree oil?

  2. The whole “chemical free” thing makes me want to scream. I just don’t know how anyone can think that it’s even possible. I’ve always assumed that they mean something along the lines of “harsh” chemicals, however you care to define that, but even that doesn’t always make sense.

  3. Your post is an important reminder to us all. We care a lot about quality “natural” products at Nature’s Basin, but even we must remain vigilant all the time about claims for products that are less than honest. Thank you for your post!

  4. That is the problem nowadays with this environment protection trend and the fact that it’s almost impossible to entirely clean something without chemicals, whether soap or hard chemicals. The most important thing to keep in mind is to use those products carefully… And regarding those products that are so-called “chemical” free… well, most are fake “green” products, it’s known and luckily there are people like you who open the consumer’s eyes and tell them the truth!

  5. ultrasound technician says:

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  6. The whole “chemical free” thing makes me want to scream. I just don’t know how anyone can think that it’s even possible. I’ve always assumed that they mean something along the lines of “harsh” chemicals, however you care to define that, but even that doesn’t always make sense.

  7. Your post is an important reminder to us all. We care a lot about quality “natural” products at Nature’s Basin, but even we must remain vigilant all the time about claims for products that are less than honest. Thank you for your post!

  8. Although it does sound misleading, I think most sunscreen buyers understand that they mean chemical sunscreen free. In that it is a zinc oxide (physical) sunscreen as opposed to a chemical one.

  9. For this post, you are my heroine. I will direct every misguided or dishonest chemical-free-product shill I find to this post.

  10. michelle says:

    So if I’m making a product that uses non-chemically processed vegetable oil, naturally derived hydrosols from organically grown herbs and essential oils, that wouldn’t be considered chemical free?

    In my mind, when I make a product and call it chemical free I’m referring to synthetics. When I buy a product and check to make sure it is chemical free I’m looking for synthetic products. This is something I know for certain that others are doing as well.

    In the above example:Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Disodium EDTA are clearly chemicals and not naturally derived non chemically processed ingredients so to call it a “chemical free” product is false advertising.

    Just because some natural ingredients contain synthetic chemicals doesn’t mean all do.

    Would my natural solid perfume oil contain a synthetic chemical if it is made with a non-chemically processed vegetable oil and non-chemically processed essential oil from organically grown herbs plus beeswax from my own hive? I don’t believe so and I know there are many others on the market that are honest in there “all natural” claims just the cases listed above are not. So to say that the chemical free in natural cleaning and beauty product claims is untrue is untrue in itself. The only truth is that consumers need to read the labels and know the difference.

  11. Michelle – Yes, your natural solid perfume is full of chemicals. That’s the point of the blog – that claiming “chemical free” is a myth. Your product sounds lovely and may be free of synthetic chemicals, but it isn’t chemical free. Perhaps the fact that I call out the synthetic ingredients doesn’t make my point well.

  12. michelle says:

    Thanks Jennifer,
    I see what point you were making and I apologize for my misunderstanding. I’ve been concentrating so much on the synthetic chemicals that I didn’t see the focus of the article. So many in the bath and body business rationalize their use of synthetics with the claim that everything we use in our products are chemicals and so on one hand, being a mother that wants synthetic chemicals regulated more and rid from my life, I get somewhat defensive on the “chemical” issue. Right now I’m facing several peers in the body product business that either like to claim their product is all natural (as you stated) when in fact their product contains synthetic chemicals, or else they are trying desperately to discredit the EWG and anyone who agrees with them. A soap supply company that I had been linked with on twitter recently called out Sanjay Gupta on CNN as a person trying to incite fear in America and challenged my desire for my products to be natural stating that they are chemicals just like anything else so basically I’m a hypocrite. I’ve been certified in the use of essential oils and herbs, I keep my own bees. Although I had been a user of fragrance oils, once I learned of the dangers I moved away from them. I always research the ingredients I use and check their hazard ratings with the skin deep database. I’m sure I have a lot to learn and this post isn’t self promotion (hence, why I’ve not listed my company name). I just didn’t understand the meaning of “chemical” which you’ve clarified. Thank you!

  13. Thanks for posting this.
    My husband wrote about the deep deception in the beauty industry with regards to so called “natural” products back in 2009.

    For what it’s worth, we hand craft our products and I can attest they are all natural. The emulsifying wax and staeric acid are plant derived and the Citricidal comes certified contaminants free. It is as clean as it can.

    MammaMichal’s Freshly Made Body Care Products do NOT contain any alcohol, detergents, artificial color, fragrances, artificial synthetic preservatives or petrochemicals. NONE of our products or the ingredients they’re made from has been tested on animals.

    Our products are genuinely all natural and animal cruelty free!

    And my point, some of us truly care as to what we put on our our bodies, and take any and all possible measures to ensure toxins free body care products.

  14. ultrasound technician says:

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  15. Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  16. Even if we accept water as being non-chemical (although there’s no such thing in reality), still the product you described shouldn’t be allowed to claim it’s chemical free. It’s unbelievable they are allowed to use that claim for marketing purposes.

  17. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  18. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  19. Wow! This is what everyone should read. A little common sense and understanding will help us see through the false claims.

  20. Wow! This is what everyone should read. A little common sense and understanding will help us see through the false claims.

  21. Thanks for the enlightenment. I actually go for the chemical free products thinking that it really doesn’t contain any chemical.

  22. Hi Jennifer, you had tweeted me in regards to Shaklee’s Basic H super concentrated cleaner containing 1,4-dioxane. I posed that question to Shaklee and below is the response I got. I couldn’t find where I could email you directly and Twitter doesn’t allow enough character space, and, I’m a newbie with Twitter and all that so this is the only way I found to get back to you on this issue. So here’s the response they gave me:rnThanks for your inquiry regarding Basic H2 Organic Super Cleaning Concentrate.rnrnAt Shaklee, we strive to formulate the safest products possible using the latest advances that science can offer us. Thatu2019s why we use the most sensitive analytical methods which are able to monitor possible contaminants down to the lowest levels. And recent advances in detection capabilities have revealed that some raw materials may contain very low amounts of 1,4-dioxane, a trace contaminant, previously undetectable with the older standard analytical methodology. rnrn1,4-dioxane is a contaminant that may occur during the ethoxylation process of compounds used in personal care and household products – and the levels are minute.We periodically test for the presence of this contaminant, and in the few compounds where it may reside the levels would be well below those permitted by California’s Proposition 65. It would, therefore, not represent a concern for consumers. rnrnNevertheless, while the likelihood of 1,4 dioxane being present in compounds used in a few Shaklee products is extremely low – in accordance with our product philosophy, we will continue to monitor, test and where necessary, eliminate 1,4-dioxane from our products.rnrnYour Friends at ShakleernrnSo, my opinion is that this is a very safe yet honest answer from Shaklee. I feel safe using their products and I think they do take extra steps to provide high quality, safe products. I would love to know your opinion of this. Thanks!

  23. Picky-Picky says:

    I don’t really understand what the point of this article was except to point out that any physical or biological substance on Earth is technically a “chemical”….including water (aka H2O) as stated above. I suppose there are people out there who don’t understand the very basic definition of a “chemical”. So, in that sense, I suppose your article is educational. However, I believe that when manufacturers claim “chemical free”, they mean free of HARMFUL chemicals. We view vinigar as a safe cleaner….however, it is still a chemical. rnrnBottom line….people simply need to educate themselves with the basics of the world we live in so they can make good, educated decisions about the products they purchase & use. rnrnThe article makes it sound as if the author is saying EVERY company is lying to consumers if they claim “chemical free”. Unfortunately, this might stress some people about any product they purchase & use. I simply think the the author should have done a much better job of communicating the point that this article is just an explaination of what a “chemical” is & that we cannot escape from any “chemicals” in our day to day lives.

  24. up_the_standards says:

    @ picky-picky:nnIt’s false marketing, and deceptive to consumers who believe that the product they are buying has no chemicals. There is no such thing as chemical-free anything, as the author of this article has pointed out. What you are suggesting is that there are some chemicals that are more harmful than others. However, products which claim to be “all natural-chemical free” are stating that there are virtually no chemicals in their product. This also suggests the notion that all chemicals are negative, which is false. Furthermore “natural” does not always mean safe. So there is also that misconception being marketed. While I agree that consumers should do more educate themselves, this simply does not excuse anyone from profiting off of blatantly false information and deceptive marketing.

  25. Brilliant post. Thank you.

  26. There are products out there that are truly chemical free! 100 percent chemical free and organic! I searched fo a while and found some with less chemicals and partly organic until I found this company and I am so glad I did! I’m so passionate about them you can find a link on my blog at! There are people making a difference so we can have chemical free choices!

  27. Jennifer,
    I take offence to your blatent calling of liars those of us who describe our products as chemical free. Most of us are not biologists. In fact the general public does not have such a handle on all your scientific mumbo-jumbo. Bottome line: the average consumer sees a “chemical” as a harmful substance. A sytnthetic additive. Maybe you did not excel in writing classes, as I did, but the CONNOTATION (meaning in addition to or apart from the thing explicitly named or described by a word) of “chemical” is negative. example: chemical warfare. I guess if our kids are throwing water balloons at one another, they are involved in chemical warfare? Talk about technicality.
    I really don’t have time for this, but I am speaking for all the people out there, entreprenuers that keep this country afloat, trying to provide to thier local nieghbors safer alternatives with “chemical free” body and cleaning products. Ok, so maybe the huge corporations using this as a marketing tool. I myself feel if a product has nothing but plants and water in it, it’s “chemical” free, or free from harmful substances.. Then again, I’m not a biologist. So please do not attack those of us striving to offer safer alternatives.

  28. I have been researching kid’s sunscreen for my sensitive daughter, and have been utterly frustrated by obvious lies and laughable woo. Could anyone be more contemptuous of the public’s intellect than people marketing “chemical free” products?

    The only possible explanations for such ridiculous claims are Incompetence or malice. Being generous, I’ll assume incompetence.

  29. “A sytnthetic additive. Maybe you did not excel in writing classes, as I did, but the CONNOTATION (meaning in addition to or apart from the thing explicitly named or described by a word) of “chemical” is negative.”

    HHmm…I guess they did not include spelliong in those writing classes, huh! The point is – people DO quite often think of anything chemical as negative. And there is nothing negative about chemicals. EVERYTHING on the planet is made of chemicals – bad

    things, good things, hazardous things and beneficial things – every thing. Not all SYNTHETIC chemicals are bad either. Just like not all natural chemicals are beneficial. I try to buy USDA Certified Organic products whenever possible. I also try to buy natural and local, when those natural and local products are better, in my opinion, than the alternatives. But I will never buy a USDA Certified Organic product marketed as “chemical free” because I object to the characterization of chemicals as “bad” – it’s as bad as greenwashing to me.

  30. Products made by organic are the best of it all!


  1. […] No Such Thing As Chemical Free In Cleaning & Beauty Products. Really. Really really. by Jennifer Taggart of The Smart Mama […]

  2. […] complaints and some highly amusing satire  from bloggers (and not just the chemistry crowd, a Mum’s blogs have joined in as well). In short not much has […]

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