The Science of Nails

Animal, Vegetable, or Chemical?

Why do we swallow the rubbish that is dished up not only by product manufacturers but also by so-called consumer activists whose interests are supposedly to protect people?

Here’s a quiz.

Ethyl acetate or water. Which is the chemical?

Wrong! They’re both chemicals. (I’m assuming you guessed the chemical-sounding word.)

Dibutyl phthalate or a human nail plate? Which is the chemical?

Wrong! I threw in something on the body to fool you, but again, they’re both chemicals.

OK, final question: Which is the chemical? Isopropyl alcohol or red wine?

Right! They’re both chemicals. I knew you’d get the hang of this.

Well-known industry chemist Doug Schoon has a whole “bit” in his training about what is and isn’t a chemical. He’s a chemist and naturally sees the world in chemical terms, but he shines a light on an area that is darkened by manufactured fear and just plain ignorance. There is a false sense by many people that chemicals, by their very name, are bad. And that misconception stems from not only a fundamental ignorance of science, but from our unwillingness to understand things for ourselves. Doesn’t everyone know, for example, that common table salt is a chemical made up of two elements that are deadly if not combined? Don’t we willingly use chemicals all day long, putting them in our mouths and on our skin?

If, as Doug says, “Everything you can see or touch, except light and electricity, is a chemical,” why do we swallow the rubbish that is dished up not only by product manufacturers but also by so-called consumer activists whose interests are supposedly to protect people?

What got me thinking about this was a press release that just crossed my desk for a new skin care product for clients who were “tired of using products on their skin that contained chemicals.” Skin care products that used chemicals?Really? Are there any skin care products that don’t use chemicals? No. there aren’t.

Nail technicians—and their clients—don’t have to be afraid of chemicals and don’t need to be manipulated by false or misleading information about them. Recently, after considerable pressure from a consumer activist group, many nail polish manufacturers elected to remove dibutyl phthalate (DBP) from their products. DBP is an ingredient that is also used in consumer plastics like toys. There was never any good scientific evidence that the ingredient was harmful in the amounts used in polish (in fact, there was compelling evidence to the contrary). Nevertheless, the group’s effective (and unsavory) marketing campaign preyed on the collective fear of chemicals and scared people into calling for the ingredient’s elimination. I’m not the defender of the polish industry, but this particular “consumer activism” reeked of a smear campaign.

Some chemicals are just plain bad. Some are not. Some are bad only in certain quantities. I’m just saying: Don’t be scared of your products. Seek to understand the chemicals—and the chemistry—that makes them work. 

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