So I’m still thinking on this, but it’s something that I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Being a midwife over here isn’t the same as being one in America. Over here you’re part-obstetrician and part-obstetric nurse (we don’t have ob nurses over here at all, just midwives).
In Northern Ireland, midwives do all the antenatal care and deliver babies in any “normal” birth, and doctors only get involved if the abnormal presents itself. It’s supposed to mean that, because the state of pregnancy is one of the normal, natural states for a woman to be in, it isn’t a condition that usually needs to be treated. So keeping doctors out of the ordinary pregnancy cases means no one is looking for problems. Which is supposed to avoid the cycle of intervention that happens once doctors involve themselves. Quite a few women get all their proper healthcare throughout pregnancy, including their scans, blood tests etc, but they never see a doctor.
Sometimes midwives get a bad rap in the press. Especially in England, where maternity services are very underfunded. The problem starts when midwives, for whatever reason, don’t refer genuine medical issues to doctors. This endangers the mother and the baby. This happened with my first pregnancy when I nearly died, and long-time readers know that ended in a lot of tears, and with me thinking that I couldn’t get pregnant. That was one big reason why, when I came back to Europe from China, I didn’t go back to England and I never plan to live there again. When I was in China and found out I actually could have a baby safely, I felt quite angry at the two unnecessary losses I had in England.
In Northern Ireland, we have the best maternity services in the UK. I think it’s because half of the country (traditionally) was Catholic, and had a lot of babies, so there is high demand for services. From my baby classes and Facebook groups of Northern Ireland mums, I know a lot of people with at least three children. Maternity services is a huge priority over here because family is important. A lot of people over here complain about the health service but I think it’s fantastic compared to England.
The training pathway for both dietetics and midwifery is a bit intimidating. I was good at science until I was about 15 then I struggled epically. I could follow the teacher in class with no problem, but I just couldn’t hold all the information in my head and by the time I did tests or exams, I just forgot everything. I’ve read recently that this is an ADHD thing, but I don’t know if that’s true.
Anyway, midwifery and dietetics are both very scientific subjects, with a lot of anatomy, medical science, biology, and in the case of midwifery, all the medical procedures like intubating babies and taking blood samples and doing urine tests, as well as diagnosing things like pre-eclampsia.
I’m so excited about doing this but I know it’s not going to go down well with my wider family, particularly if I do midwifery. I was thinking of applying straight after high school but my aunt who I lived with said it was a bad plan. Looking back, at the time I do think she was right, but since then I’ve grown, I’ve drifted through my twenties without purpose or direction, and I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what career would suit me. However, I am not sure if my aunt will agree or if she’ll tell me I outright shouldn’t do it.
I want to stay in touch with all my relatives but it’s hard when I want to do something they don’t think is a good idea. She used to be a midwife and I don’t know what happened but I think she got very disheartened with the way things went in England and I think she began to hate her job. My other aunt is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, having had a long and varied career with the NHS (our free healthcare service which runs 99% of all medical services in the UK), and my sister recently got a job at the NHS and it’s been the absolute best thing for her, she’s so happy in her job (finally). My other other aunt is a podiatrist, fixing people’s feet problems, and my mum was a cadet nurse (like, the lowest entry point into nursing) for a very short time after school, before she freaked out over the sight of blood and ran away with a motorcycle gang (I wish it weren’t true). My grandma was a nurse, midwife, matron and then a district nurse, and she couldn’t walk down the street in the town where I grew up without people stopping her to say hello. And that’s all just on my mum’s side.
On my dad’s side, my other other other aunt (the one we don’t speak of) is a physiotherapist. That’s not even mentioning all the cousins, my sister, great aunts etc who work in the health service. It’s like our family industry is taking care of sick people.
So coming from a long line of nurses and allied healthcare workers, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea about whether this is a good move or not. On my husband’s side, literally no one works for the NHS, which I find a bit odd.
I am drawn to midwifery specifically because I have seen extremely good and extremely bad maternity care, in four different countries (England, Nepal, China and Northern Ireland), and I know the best midwives advocate for women and put women’s best interests at the centre of everything they do.
I discovered feminism fairly late compared to a lot of people, as I only really came to it when I started my master’s degree. But I really engaged with it and I see midwifery as an inherently feminist role because you’re supporting women to make their birth choices, but also supporting women to actually give birth.
On the dietitian side, I could really see myself getting my teeth into that as a job, too. Dietitians are different in the UK to America, too. They predominantly work for our state healthcare service and they don’t get paid to go to events sponsored by Pepsi or McDonalds. Over here, dietitians follow the scientific evidence.
The downside of them not getting funding from unhealthy food corporations is that there’s not many dietitians around, there are very, very, very long waiting lists, and generally, to cut down waiting lists and make the healthcare service look good, doctors simply don’t refer people to dietitians when they would benefit from it.
Having said that, I am fascinated by nutrition and have written tons of articles about it in the past so dietetics does also appeal to me, but I’m not sure if I will be able to keep up with the 2-year course that’s 4 years of work condensed into half the time.
Overall, midwifery science and dietetics both offer stable, structured career paths, while also both allowing for the option of private practice in the future, and both of them would be jobs I could do abroad, particularly in New Zealand, which I’d quite like to go to at some point, even if only for a few years.
Okay. Now I think I’m ready to finish those applications. Well done if you’re still with me haha I just had to get out all my thoughts on it.
PS The featured image is my jellyfish when he was a newborn.
I did a fun beauty investigation over the past week to find out whether hairspray, setting spray (or nothing) is better for making your make-up stay put in a variety of weather conditions! The video’s tests are hilarious but it’s asking a real and important question about a beauty product that most of us use without thinking (or have in a drawer and forget about, if you’re like me).
Does setting spray or hairspray work better in a rainstorm?
I tested setting spray against no setting spray then got into the shower to see what they did in a rainstorm. Oh that was hilarious!!
Next I took my make-up off, did a complete reapply and tested setting spray against hair spray in first a light rainstorm (shower on low) then a heavy one (shower on high).
I found that hairspray worked marginally better but neither of them were really designed to stand up to this sort of abuse.
Does setting spray or hairspray work better during exercise?
After the rain test I took my experiment outside to find out what was better to keep make-up in place during exercise. I did about 30 minutes of exercise outdoors on a hot day to see which product was best at fighting make-up meltdown.
Lastly, to test for whether setting spray or hairspray was better during those really hot days for example when you’re on a long bus ride, I used my hairdryer. Unexpectedly, the heat from the hairdryer made any perspiration evaporate but it did also show some interesting results about make up that’s been fixed with setting spray – on the side of my face where I used setting spray, I ended up with a nasty little breakout on my cheek. On the side where I used hairspray, this did not happen (and my eye make-up looked fresher on the hairspray side).
Conclusion: Hairspray isn’t just a cheap alternative to setting spray. If you need your make up to last longer, hairspray is actually better. Which leads to the question, why is Studio Fix called a setting spray not something else???
I did not look at whether spraying your make-up brushes with setting spray would increase the intensity of eye shadow colours. Maybe in a future investigation…
What do you think of my little experiment? Let me know your thoughts!
This is my ultimate guide to lip plumping: I’ve reviewed 9 lip plumpers to show you how to get bigger lips quickly, safely, and on the cheap!
If you’re anything like me, you wish you were born with plumper lips, like Kylie Jenner lips, or Angelina Jolie lips – those voluptuous levels of plump. I hear you. I’ve spent loads of time trying all those “natural” lip plumping ingredients such as mint and cinnamon, as well as store bought products. I didn’t have as much success as I could until I formulated a method to get bigger lips whenever I wanted them.
I found out after trying loads of different lip plumpers that it requires a bit of strategy to get bigger lips, you see – just putting plumpers on your lips and checking them in the mirror won’t actually help. In my experience (and I’ve been plumping my lips since 2005), the absolute best thing for lip plumping are two ingredients: Sodium Hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid, a natural substance that your body produces) and Maxi Lip (a peptide blend; peptides are naturally found in the body). Read on to find out how to use these for the very best results. After my lip plumping method, I’ve reviewed the 9 lip plumping products that I’ve tried and tested: Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker Gloss; Collection (was Collection 2000) Plumping Lip Gloss; Collection Volume Sensation Lipstick; Avon Anew Lip Plumping Conditioner; Lip Venom; Physician’s Formula Plump Potion Needle Free Plumping Cocktail; Boots 17 Volumizing Lip Gloss; Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker XL and Rimmel Volume Booster Lip Gloss. Then I share links to the evidence that lip plumpers can and do work. Who needs fillers when you can do this instead?
Lip plumpers alone won’t give you bigger lips. Why? The skin on your lips needs to stretch and grow to accommodate more lip. We don’t live in a world of magic, and our bodies can only do so much. If you don’t let your lips gradually stretch, they won’t stay plumped, even with the best products. Not only that, but they’ll become incredibly uncomfortable and you’ll probably start getting dry crackly bits on them, and your lips will start splitting when you use plumping products. This isn’t a sign that the plumping products aren’t working, it’s a sign that you need a better lip care regime to enable your lips to plump to their largest.
How do you stretch them? If you’re totally new to lip plumping or you haven’t done it for a few months, start with using a lip plumping product once a day. What do you do the rest of the time? Lip balm. To get plump lips, you need to keep your lips moisturized with lip balm at all times. I take mine off only when I’m eating and drinking. Why? Because dry lips don’t stretch properly when you put a plumper on, they crack. You need to moisturize the lips with balms to get them to plump instead of cracking. By doing this, you are making sure there’s enough room inside the lip for them to get bigger. Additionally, many plumping products dry your lips out, so you need to keep them moisturized for that reason as well. I also recommend taking vitamin E supplements so your lips are well-conditioned inside and out (if you’re currently using vitamin K to banish blue circles, take the vitamin E and the vitamin K at least 4 hours apart; consult your physician before taking supplements).
On well-moisturized and cared for lips, increase the frequency of using the plumper to 3 times a day. You should be using it directly on the lips, not (like one confused customer on Amazon) over lipstick and lipliner. How is it going to get to the lips to give you a great result if there’s loads of lipstick in the way? That’s like trying to drink from a bottle with the cap on (obviously in this analogy, if the lipstick is a plumping lipstick, that’s like drinking from a bottle through a sports cap)!
Once your lips are as big as they’re going to get, you need to keep going with your lipcare routine, keeping them moisturized, and continue using the plumper once every day or two. Lip plumping requires a little bit of effort (if you can call it effort to use a plumping product and lipbalm regularly) to maintain bigger lips, but I think it’s worth it because I like how my lips look when they’re plumped.
What’s the best product to use to plump lips? I’ve had a lot of disasters and a lot of success with a few different products. The best lip plumping products contained either Sodium Hyaluronate (which naturally occurs in the body and as an ingredient it is certified vegan and is gluten-free) or a patented ingredient called Maxi-Lip (a natural peptide blend; these peptides aren’t on any animal-derivative lists but I couldn’t 100% guarantee it’s vegan). The best strategy would be to use a product that contained both, or to alternate two separate products containing Sodium Hyaluronate and Maxi-Lip. Both Sodium Hyaluronate and Maxi-Lip are ones that tingle when you put them on.
Unfortunately, all that tingles is not a plumper, and I’ve also had some bad results from a few products that claimed to be plumping but didn’t actually do anything apart from tingle a lot (I’ll name and shame them further down). There’s a lot of inflated claims on the market regarding lip plumping, and some companies choose their words very carefully to mislead customers. On the other hand, I’ve also had some really good results from some products that surprised me. I’ve reviewed 9 different lip plumpers, and unlike other articles where they have huge lists of these, I’ve actually personally tried all the ones I talk about, so I can say what actually worked instead of what the packaging claimed.
Reviewed! Here’s my top picks for lip plumpers:
1. Soap and Glory Sexy Motherpucker plumping lip gloss. It now comes in a range of shades but I’ll always love the shade Half Naked because it was the original one and I think it’s the nicest, I’ve been using it on and off since late 2009. It contains sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) and I’ve found it to be really effective. It costs $14-15 at Amazon where you can buy it direct from the manufacturer, and is also available in the UK at Boots for £9. I didn’t like the Silver Tubed XL version because it doesn’t work the same way and only produces a temporary plumping result. I liked this Soap and Glory Sexy Motherpucker plumping lip gloss because it’s easy to apply and in my experience one tube lasts a long time, as you don’t need to use much of this to get a plumping effect. Currently this Sexy Mother Pucker plumping lip gloss is my favourite plumping product. 9/10 Plumping ingredient: Sodium Hyaluronate. See it here
2. Collection Plump Up The Volume Lip Gloss (aka Collection 2000). This was the first plumping product that I ever tried and I loved it so much! They discontinued it about 4 years ago, and I started buying their Volumizing Lipstick instead. 8.5/10 Plumping ingredient: Maxi-Lip.
3. Collection Volume Sensation Lipstick. This lipstick was a bit less effective than the Collection lipgloss, but it gave a better result than the Rimmel Volume booster (below). Collection changed the active ingredient in this lipstick from Maxi Lip (a peptide blend) to Sodium Hyaluronate, then they discontinued it completely 6 months ago as well! Now Collection don’t sell any products that contain Sodium Hyaluronate or Maxi Lip, or even anything that plumps lips. You can still find an abundance of these on eBay, but I don’t know if I’d trust them to be sealed. I’ve still got 2 tubes of this that I bought last summer. I use it as a maintenance to keep my lips plump after they’re as plump as I like, and also as a gentle way to start plumping my lips when I haven’t plumped for a few months (steady does it). Since it’s been discontinued, I’m looking at alternatives (see below). 7/10. Plumping ingredients: Maxi-Lip, then Sodium Hyaluronate.
4. Physician’s Formula Plump Potion Needle Free Lip Plumping Cocktail: This stuff was quite nice because it was fairly cheap and it contains a few different lip plumping ingredients for a show-stoppingly plump pout when you use it. I really liked how my lips looked with it on. I didn’t like the fact that it wasn’t a very long lasting result, however, and while it contained the all-important Sodium Hylauronate, I don’t think there was very much of it in there because the plumping result should have lasted longer. 6/10. Plumping ingredients: Caffeine, Hyalauronic Acid, Menthol. See it here.
5. Rimmel Volume Booster Lip Gloss: This stuff didn’t claim to work miracles – it says “up to 40% bigger” on the tube and I would agree that it didn’t go beyond this. If you’re looking for a subtle plump rather than a show-stopping plump, go for this one. If there were no other lip plumping glosses for sale for some reason, I’d buy it again, because it worked a little, but really I wasn’t that impressed. 4/10. Plumping Ingredients: Unknown. See it here
Reviewed: Products that didn’t work for me:
6. Lip Venom: I used this in 2009 until it was empty. Absolutely terrible, it tingled and stung more than some other ones, and made my lips redder due to irritation, but it didn’t plump or increase my lip size at all. It probably works if you have poor circulation. It is a perfect example of a beauty product that got a lot of hype but didn’t deliver results. 2/10. Plumping Ingredients: Nothing.
7. Boots 17 Volumizing Lip Gloss: This did nothing, not even a tingle. I don’t think it even had any active ingredients in it to plump lips. 1/10. Plumping Ingredients: Nothing.
8. Sexy Mother Pucker XL (the silver tube): It does say to finish 2 tubes of the Sexy Mother Pucker lipgloss before using this, and while I had definitely done that in the past, I bought the XL in 2012 after I hadn’t used anything else for about 6 months, so perhaps that’s why it didn’t have much effect on my lips, but I found it to be like Lip Venom – all tingle and no plumping action! 3/10 (because it might work for someone else). Plumping ingredients: Collagen, Menthol. Warning: Contains Sodium Chondroitin Sulfate (shellfish).
9. Avon Anew Plumping Tinted Lip Conditioner: This was basically a tinted lipbalm type product shaped, packaged and priced like a lipstick, that you spread on your lips and it’s supposed to make them bigger. I used it in 2014 for the three months leading up to my wedding and while it was very conditioning of the lips, it did nothing to make my lips bigger, so I didn’t care when I lost it at work. In hindsight I would have spent my money on a better product, especially since it was in the run-up to my wedding. 3/10 (because it was quite moisturizing but didn’t plump). Plumping ingredients: Nothing.
Plumping products that I plan to try (but haven’t tried yet):
1. Elizabeth Arden Plump Perfect Lipstick: I do like a good plumping lipstick; I’m hoping this one will be at least as good as the Collection Volumizing Lipstick because now that’s discontinued, I don’t have a go-to volumizing lipstick. I have ordered the Elizabeth Arden Plump Perfect so as soon as it arrives, I’ll add my review. Active ingredient: Maxi-Lip (a peptide blend).
2. Too Faced Lip Injection Power Plumping Lip Gloss: This looks like it’s got some really good reviews and it’s available on Amazon, so when I next have some money to spend on cosmetics, this is what I’m going to try out! Active Ingredient: Unknown.
What about natural plumpers?
Unfortunately, while I’d like to live in a universe where there’s a plant that plumps lips, I don’t, and neither do you. Here’s my thoughts on the main things being labelled “natural” plumpers: Cinnamon: That tingling sensation is the cinnamon burning your skin. Avoid. It’s become trendy to tell people to use this as an all natural ingredient that magically re-grows lost unicorn horns, because the tingle makes people feel like it’s working, but it’s not. It is classified as an irritant for a reason, and it’s highly allergenic (i.e. that swelling is caused by histamines and can cause permanent disfigurement). Peppermint/Mint Oil: Less allergenic and dangerous than cinnamon, it will cause a local reaction of swelling but it won’t provide any long term results.
The most natural lip plumper is sodium hyaluronate (aka hyaluronic acid, which naturally occurs in the body anyway), and you can find it along with menthol and some other natural ingredients in the Physician’s Formula Plumping Potion.
How do these plumpers work?
If it contains sodium hyaluronate (certified vegan hylauronic acid), it will have a similar effect to the hyaluronic acid fillers, but it will take time for this to happen, because you’re putting the plumping lip gloss on the outside of your lips, and the fillers go on the inside. They both do a similar job, though. An even better set of ingredients to use are the Maxi-Lip quartet: Ethylhexyl Palmitate (and) Tribehenin (and) Sorbitan Isostearate (and) Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1. These naturally occurring plumping peptides have been clinically proven to stimulate collagen growth and used to be available in the Collection Volumizing Lipstick. It is the best set of ingredients for long term lip enhancement. This ingredient is now available in Elizabeth Arden’s Plump Perfect Lipstick.
With Sodium Hylauronate, you get two results – there’s the short term when your lips get plumped for a couple of hours, but there’s also the long term – your lips will grow bigger over time as the skin stretches more.
For an even more long-lasting plump, when you use a product containing Maxi-Lip at least three times a day for 28 days, studies show your lips will become plumper longer term because it stimulates collagen growth. Obviously, if you completely stop using it after that, they will gradually go back to their normal size because it doesn’t change your DNA, and that’s what tells your body how plump your lips should normally be. But if you stop using fillers, your lips would eventually go back to their normal size anyway, so in my view the plumping lip glosses are preferable because they’re cheaper and you’re in control of them.
Where’s the evidence for these plumpers?
As a science teacher, I think evidence is pretty important. Luckily, patents can’t be awarded without evidence, so while there’s not much about plumpers in the published scientific literature, there’s plenty of evidence for plumping that’s been submitted to the patent office! A patent is given for a new invention (including a cosmetic formula) that does what it claims to do, when an application is filed. All applications have to be made public. This means some of the patent applications are a little vague but it’s easy to see which plumpers have been tested and shown to work, because patents aren’t issued for things that don’t work. Here’s some of the scientific evidence relating to lip plumping (click the links to read original reports): Use of peptides (e.g. Maxi-Lip) for lip plumping using the collagen stimulation method. (L’Oreal parent company). Patent for immediate effect lip plumper, 2007 (Arbonne parent company). Patent for a temporary lip plumping gloss (one that plumps while product is applied) (JAFRA parent company). A patent for a lip balm containing sodium hyaluronate (aka hyaluronic acid. This also contains other ingredients) which will plump lips and stimulate collagen production in the area for anti-ageing purposes (Supersmile parent company). This patent clearly states: “Hyaluronic acid maintains tissue hydration and helps retain water within the skin tissue…The swelling of the sodium hyaluronate particles increase the volume of the lip tissue, reducing wrinkles and plumping the lips.” The first patent that was filed that applies to wonder plumping ingredient Maxi-Lip (Sederma Parent Company). The patent that explains how Maxi-Lip can stimulate collagen production by using a very specific newly-invented (by Sederma) peptide chain to plump. The most recent patent that was filed that relates to Maxi-Lip’s method of action (this isn’t the patent for Maxi-Lip, which is above, this is a patent that protects the method of action) (Sederma Parent Company).
As you can see there’s quite a body of evidence that, while it’s not easy to find, definitely exists and does show that some lip plumping serums, glosses and lipsticks really do work, if you choose the right one. As these patents show, sodium hyaluronate and Maxi-Lip are the two best plumping ingredients for long term lip plumping effects.
Future ingredients to look out for: This patent has very recently been granted to use bee venom in a lip plumper, and the evidence is looking pretty exciting.
After a two day car drive to Salzburg, Austria, I arrived with a big list of things to do in Salzburg. I was expecting it to be cold, but instead I found Salzburg to be a mountain-surrounded retreat bathed in brilliant sunshine with clear air and perfect light for photography:
This big gold ball was a mystery, but it features heavily on Salzburg’s postcards and appears to be a bit of a landmark in Salzburg.
These bottles of Mozart perfume were everywhere in Salzburg. Presumably it’s a desirable thing to smell like a dead composer. The tagline on all the posters was “the magic of a nice feeling.” Mozart’s connection to Salzburg is that he was born here, at 9 Getreidestrasse. I didn’t feel inclined to seek out the house Mozart was born in, since I was far more interested in how the environment shaped his early music; all over Salzburg you could see Mozart’s music in the landscape; the colour of the buildings contrasted with Salzburg’s bed rock, in which it was nestled like a flute playing alongside a cello. Salzburg was light, airy, nothing that happened here could be truly terrible. This flautesque beauty was the enduring mask covering a darker past.
It felt like most of Salzburg was roughly hewn from the living rock itself, and the difference in heights could be profound in places.
This sign gets louder as you walk towards it. Sorry, it’s a science joke. Seriously, though, it’s pretty awesome that Christian Doppler (as in, the Doppler Effect) used to live here, I was surprised as I’d thoroughly researched Salzburg before I set off, and there was just so much more to Salzburg than the internet had suggested. Doppler died aged 50 but, like many of the “great men” from his era, he accomplished so much in his lifetime. Known as a mathematician and physicist, his work on the Doppler effect (the effect that explains why police sirens to get disproportionately louder as they approach, then they suddenly go quiet as they depart) is how we understand red-shift in astrophysics, and that’s the primary evidence we have which supports the Big Bang Theory. It was pretty exciting to see a reference to Doppler, the man who identified the origin of the universe, here in Salzburg, a place predominantly known for music and renaissance landmarks. I suppose it’s the old saying that maths and music go together – where a place is known for music, it tends to also be known for mathematics. Doppler’s tomb is in San Michele, Venice, so this is about as close as one can get to Doppler in Salzburg. I’d much rather see a perfume named after Doppler than Mozart – it could get stronger as one got closer to the person wearing it, and fade away unexpectedly as they passed. The tagline for advertising could be “Smell like the stars of the heavens” (Geruch wie der Gestern des Himmels) as a reference to his eponymous paper on binary stars (Uber das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einiger anderer Gestern des Himmels).
This was one of two fountains that I was quite taken with in Salzburg, in Rezidenzplatz, the plaza where many tourists seemed to gather. It was beautiful, with an aura of reflected droplets of water, and it could splash a person with water from twenty feet away. The fountain below has to win points for sheer class in a public park, though:
I explained what the deal was with this second fountain in my post about Mirabell Gardens back in December 2014.
I think most tourists visiting Salzburg don’t know what these plaques are for, embedded into the pavement, four or five inches square, and starting to tarnish. Tourists seem to walk around without even noticing them, which is tragic when you know what these are for. Salzburg’s more recent history is painful to touch, a dark shroud suffocating parts of the city and extinguishing the joy and wonder of Mozart’s and Doppler’s birthplace. Like when you see someone who has been in a horrific accident, and they keep assuring you that they’re fine… but it still just goes right through you, when you look at the wound. Much of Salzburg was a profoundly beautiful place with a lot of happy tourist attractions, and you could probably get through an entire visit here without seeing traces of the Second World War if you wanted to. But there were signs, and it was not very nice. These plaques are for people who were rounded up and transported, telling the world where they were sent and what ultimately happened to them. Deportiert means deported. Ermordet means murdered. Suddenly the tragedy of Salzburg is vividly real and tragic. The plaques are to show where these people lived before they were labeled as undesirable. On the plaques above, you will see this family was separated after they were taken; Irma and Arthur Bondy were both killed at Minsk, the capital of Belarus, by the Third Reich, which leads to a completely different picture of wartime Belarus than we are used to thinking about. Otto Bondy was taken to Theresienstadt, the ghetto camp in the Czech republic, before being moved to Treblinka, the other extermination camp in Poland. Rachel Rosenmann was taken to Lodz, the work camp also in Poland. It is impossible to know when they died, only when they were taken, so whether their suffering was quick or slow, we will never be able to tell. Just looking at that photo makes me profoundly sad. Just as Mozart and Doppler are famed citizens of Salzburg who should be remembered for their work, the world should also know the names of all of these people who lived in Salzburg all their lives, then were rounded up and killed. The people in these plaques were all aged in their mid-fifties. There were so many of these plaques and I feel very guilty that I didn’t photograph them all, didn’t record every name and every fate. Then I realized that the plaques do that. They remember the people who were lost. Salzburg found them and brought them home again, even if only in name. When people say the situation with the refugees in North Africa is different to this, they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s hard for some people to remember that our side wasn’t actually aware that the Nazis were doing this to millions of people until some allied soldiers walked into Auschwitz when we liberated Poland. The same thing could quite easily be happening elsewhere.
This was a big castle. I think it’s what most people go to Salzburg for. We clomped up the hill, got to the top, enjoyed the view, balked at the entry fee and came back down again. The view was nice though and the exercise was probably good for us after the two-day drive to get from the North of England to Salzburg. There was also some sort of mechanical railway lift type thing (similar to the one at Snowdon).
On a millenial-aged bridge, this vast collection of padlocks evokes a different emotion – love. In spite of all the horror of Austria’s 20th Century past, people in Salzburg have filled this bridge with padlocks, to show their love for another human being. People in Salzburg understand suffering and loss, but the city itself endures, the people endure, and in the face of crimes against humanity of such magnitude, the city still loves, is still loved, and the pain begins to fade. Perhaps if you’re less emotional than I, you could get through a visit to Salzburg without feeling the same way.
When we had run out of time in Salzburg, we reluctantly hit the road again (there were so many things we didn’t get to see) and headed onwards, towards Rome. We never did find out what the big gold ball was.
After being ill for so long, my teeth were in serious need of some whitening. Lack of nutrients coupled with vomiting millions of times a day means I look and feel like a train wreck at the moment (actually I’ve visually improved a lot over the last fortnight but I’m still not my usual self), and I’m trying to attack my problem areas head on.
Tooth whitening is one of those tricky spots in beauty, because one one hand you’ve got every sixteen year old on Youtube telling you that they’ve found the perfect homemade tooth whitening formula and on the other hand you’ve got cosmetic dentists who claim that the only way to get whiter teeth is to pay them large amounts of money for an in-office or take-home whitening treatment. Both in-office and homemade tooth whitening remedies can be extremely damaging to the teeth if you just blindly follow them, so I decided to do some research before I put anything in my mouth.
I researched exactly what these whitening products did, then tried one out myself to find out if the middle ground – store bought whitening products, such as whitening toothpastes – were really worth the money.
How whitening works:
There are a lot of scam whitening products on the market that don’t really work, and a lot of “home whitening” recipes that are complete and utter bullshit. All of the whitening products that actually work contain peroxide in one of two forms – hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) or carbamide peroxide (CH6N2O3). Carbamide peroxide is an unstable molecule made of urea and hydrogen peroxide, and when it comes into contact with water or certain types of light, it breaks down into urea and hydrogen peroxide. Urea, in case you missed it at school, is the concentrated waste product that combines with water to form urine. In beauty products, it usually comes from animals because, while it can be synthesized in a lab, it’s easier to get it from pig urine.
For the purposes of whitening, your teeth have two layers; enamel and dentine. Your natural tooth colour comes from the dentine which is slightly yellow and which shines through the enamel. This is genetic. When staining occurs, it affects the enamel on the outside. This is environmental. Both genetic and environmental tooth colour can be changed by whitening products.
Professional whitening products tend to use carbamide peroxide, where shop-bought (or Amazon bought) whitening products tend to go straight for the hydrogen peroxide. How are they different? Well they’re really not. And here’s why: When the carbamide peroxide is put on the teeth and exposed to light (water isn’t used because it would wash the gel off the teeth), the carbamide peroxide breaks down into its component parts (urea and hydrogen peroxide). The hydrogen peroxide whitens the enamel which removes staining, then it penetrates into the dentine layer to change your natural shade. This double-action is why products which don’t contain hydrogen peroxide just don’t work very well – other ingredients can only affect the enamel (and some products such as salt or lemon juice can cause serious abrasion or acid erosion). If the enamel gets damaged by inappropriate whitening ingredients, it doesn’t grow back and in spite of what it says on all those “enamel repair” products, all they do is patch the holes, they can’t grow back tooth enamel, so it’s really important to avoid using abrasive products that will damage the tooth surface. That’s why I’d prefer to use hydrogen peroxide, which has been proven safe in the concentrations found in tooth whitening products, than any of those “home remedies” or other ingredients that haven’t been tested to find out whether they damage tooth enamel – enamel damage isn’t immediately obvious and I’m not going to risk my future tooth health because once you’ve ruined your teeth, you’ve only got a turd to polish.
Is peroxide safe on teeth?
Yes and no. It is safe in the small quantities you can find it in EU approved products. Not so much if you buy a bottle of hair bleach and apply it liberally – this is NOT safe. This sort of silliness causes tooth loss, gum damage, whatever. You MUST use a product that is SPECIFICALLY for teeth. If you swallow a little bit of it, don’t worry because the hydrochloric acid will neutralize it in this reaction:
As the chlorine gas gets produced, however (such as in the event of ingesting a fair amount of H2O2), the chlorine reacts with the unreacted hydrogen peroxide (remember, it doesn’t all react at once, reactions take time):
The + and – signs denote ions, which means they behave differently. This is a free radical reaction that you don’t want running round your body because it can cause cancer and premature ageing.
The concentration in tooth products is 0.1% (UK) up to 3% (US). A few molecules of chlorine won’t kill you. HOWEVER, it IS a poisonous gas, so if you swallow a tablespoon or more of 3% hydrogen peroxide, take the container and get yourself straight to the ER (or A + E) at the hospital.
Safety is a sliding scale, and on it, we can put Hydrogen Peroxide between Coca Cola (not great for you but won’t kill you for a long time) and House Bleach (contains peroxide and other active ingredients such as anionic surfactants). As an aside, all those things that say “uses pure oxygen to clean” contain peroxide. That’s where they get the oxygen from. Hydrogen peroxide is just water with an extra oxygen atom attached, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to drink it, and I’m mentioning this because it concerns me that some “health nuts” are drinking hydrogen peroxide for it’s alleged (read: none) health benefits. One day, the damage will catch up with them in the form of cancer (peroxide will release free radicals if you drink it) or loss of function of their digestive system (chemical burns, yum). I suppose that’s why the posthumous Darwin Awards were invented. So don’t drink it, that’s stupid, but using small amounts to whiten your teeth then rinsing your mouth with water is fairly harmless in the grand scheme of things.
What about gum damage? And other problems with the red squishy tissue in your mouth? Small amounts of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide don’t seem to damage the red stuff (gums, tongue etc), whereas there are a lot of reviews of “peroxide free” whiteners (usually these come with a snazzy blue LED to make you think you’re shining a UV light on the gel, which ALWAYS contains some chemical that will cause irritation) which state these have burnt people’s mouths. When that happens, people are duped into thinking the product is working, but you know what? Vindaloo curry burns your mouth and THAT doesn’t whiten your teeth. However, in high concentrations of peroxide, or if you leave the peroxide in your mouth for too long, you will end up with sensitivity in your mouth area.
Which products did I use to whiten my teeth?
I took a two pronged approach – I used two different whitening toothpastes. I started with the Arm and Hammer Truly Radiant toothpaste, which contains Hydrogen Peroxide. It claimed that it would give a “radiant smile in 5 days” and I wanted to test that. What exactly is a radiant smile? No idea. For the purposes of research (to find out if this stuff really worked), I brushed my teeth 10 times in the same day. This lifted a lot of the surface staining but I’m not sure it had as much of an effect as I would like. Also brushing my teeth so many times in one day made my mouth very sore and irritated because the toothbrush abraded the gums and the toothpaste dried out my lips. I liked the idea of using a toothpaste to whiten, but I disliked the idea of not being able to just put the stuff in my teeth, wait 20 minutes then get white teeth. In the past I’ve used Rapid White and that worked faster, but you can only use it once per day and it left my teeth feeling very sensitive so I haven’t used it for several years. I also hated having two trays in my mouth because it stopped me swallowing my saliva, meaning I had to use huge quantities of tissue to stop that saliva from interfering with the gel on my teeth.
Here is the Youtube video showing me brushing my teeth a lot to test the Arm and Hammer Truly Radiant Whitening Toothpaste:
I would recommend this for a couple of quid if you need a quick fix but it’s not the sort of results I could get from painting white nail varnish over my teeth going to the dentist, but then, I could buy 1000 tubes of Arm and Hammer for the cost of one whitening treatment at the dentist (I was quoted £500, and I was told I’d have to do the actual treatment myself at home as my dentist said that dentists aren’t allowed to whiten in the UK any more). Once some of the stains had lifted a bit from using the Arm and Hammer, I tried out the Blanx White Shock Toothpaste (with a special blue light) which cost about £10. I first tried this in January 2015 and wasn’t too impressed, but thought I’d try it again for comparison with the Arm and Hammer. It claims to be peroxide free. I tried it again this time, making sure I kept my teeth under the light for half an hour, and it STILL did nothing.
In conclusion, the toothpaste containing peroxide worked MUCH better than the “whitening treatment” with a scientific-looking blue light which did absolutely nothing to change the colour of my teeth. However, neither of them gave me the sort of results I was looking for, and I am still looking for my perfect tooth whitening product. I looked into whitening strips but all the ones for sale in the UK sound like crap.
Looking for a more natural alternative, I tried an experimental coconut oil rinse this morning. I rinsed for two separate sets of 5 minutes, which was very boring, but my teeth looked shiny afterwards. I’m not sure they’re any whiter, but I’m going to try it out over the course of a few days just to see, because oil pulling with coconut is totally harmless (unless you choke on it or something). I’ll write a new article if it works out, but I’m still on the look out for a good chemical whitener.
Have you tried any tooth whitening products? What did you think of them?
It’s Science Friday (okay, it’s actually Saturday now, but I had this uploaded at 23:10 last night after trying to get it to go live all day) and today’s video explains how protein filler, one of the latest “miracle products” works, and whether claims that it “repairs” the hair are exaggerated. Be prepared to see a *real* diagram (not those shitty hair advert ones) of what hair looks like, as well as a visual of the molecular formula of keratin, the molecule hair is made of… exciting!!
No more white hair for me!
I had to dye my hair darker again because it’s time to renew my passport, and if you look different to your old photo, they make you get people to sign that they’ve known you for x amount of years. I don’t want to have to do that, and because of our racist immigrant laws in this country, I have to produce my passport every time I go for a job interview, to prove I have the right to live and work in the UK.
Since I’m renewing it because of my name change, it seemed prudent to give them as little as possible to say “you’re not the same human being as the person on this passport, your name and face are different.”
Because of some weird trick of my face shape, I look totally different when I change my hair colour, so I have had to get rid of the silver hair.
I did a little tutorial of how I did it, and then today I’ve done this science video – for SCIENCE! Friday – explaining how hair dye, bleach and coloring all work on the hair and why it’s important to put the red back in with a permanent red dye.
I’ve done a full explanation of the science in a video, the gist of it is written in the rest of this article (but since I don’t script my videos, it’s slightly different in the wording, although the science is the same), there’s diagrams and everything! I’ve explained it all in the most straightforward way possible, so if you love science as much as I do, and love hearing it in plain English, it’s a really interesting watch!
If you like my youtube channel and find it relevant I’d love it if you could subscribe!
So how do you get rid of white, silver or platinum blonde hair?
Those of you who are astute will know that colour remover isn’t how to get rid of silver or white hair – it has, effectively, already had all the colour removed by the bleaching process, that’s why it’s so light.
To get rid of white or silver blonde hair, then, you need to put the colour back in. That’s what I explain in the wrecked your hair article – I haven’t actually wrecked my hair this time, but the process is the same (the results are much faster and better on hair that wasn’t wrecked).
So here’s what my hair looks like now:
As you can see, it’s not my best hair colour because it really doesn’t suit my skin tone (I need a bluer red and this is an orangey red), so I now (after it’s settled for a week) have two options:
I can either dye my hair a dark true-red red, or I can stick with the plan and go for brown.
Either will probably wash out in 2-4 weeks to a color I don’t like any more. So I’m thinking brown for the passport pictures, then let that wash out a bit, then true-red red.
I’ve never been a proper red before, I’ve only been ginger for years and years then dark brown for 6 months before I whitened it. Oh and a bunch of temporary rainbow colours from time to time.
Since I’m basically artificially reconstructing the core of my hair, I need to stick with warm colours so blonde is off the menu for a while.
How does one artificially reconstruct their hair core, you ask?
The video I linked to above (which I made today) is a model showing what hair looks like when it’s been bleached. The loss of colour molecules is only part of the problem – the shaft now has holes burned in it where the chemical has gotten into the shaft to do its work and the colour molecules have departed (this is the same in any hair colourant – that’s why when you dye your hair dark brown or black loads of times, then use colour remover, instead of going to your natural colour, it turns a pale caramel type of colour).
When you add a new color to that, it packs the inside with color, but because of the holes in the hair shaft (which are irreparable) the color washes out easily. Not only that, but it’s designed to go on hair with color molecules in it (because normally you’d put it over your natural coloured hair), so it tends to be designed to simultaneously lighten the existing molecules and add some new pigment molecules, but there aren’t usually enough new pigment molecules to produce a realistic result on very bleached hair. And each time you use it, it burns more holes in the hair shaft.
In the process of artificially reconstructing the hair, then, you can do more damage if you’re gung ho about it which is why I’m going slowly, letting my hair recover each time (it doesn’t heal itself, but it does get its protective oils back over time, and they are way underestimated as to how useful they are) and gradually building up to the color I want.
Once it’s been done, it obviously can’t be bleached again past a certain point, because the bleach will keep blasting open the shaft which will eventually turn the hair to jelly, at which point you just have to cut it off. This has never happened to me.
Why am I so focussed on red, you ask?
It’s standard hairdressing knowledge that in order to move someone’s hair from blonde to brown, you have to put the red back in first. This has to be done with permanent colour (I’ll explain why below) and it has to be done because the blue molecules are smaller and have been mostly unaffected by the bleaching, they’re the last ones to get taken out (when hair is bleached, it goes through these stages: black> dark brown > caramel > weird orangey colour > weird bright yellow > pale yellow > white. If your hair’s not black, it picks up to the nearest stage on this sequence, eg if you’re a natural blonde, it will go weird bright yellow > pale yellow > white depending on when you wash it off).
To make your hair pigment, “nature” (or whatever) throws together a bunch of melanin (yes, vaguely something to do with melatonin) of different shades (it comes in 3 colours), and the combination of those 3 shades and the quantity of individual molecules are what produce your hair colour.
To restore the hair to a believable darker colour, then, you have to go through the other colours and replace those first. I could have replaced the yellow before the red, but most hair colourants to achieve blonde hair are either semi-permanent or have very aggressive developer (to get lighter results for darker hair), so doing that would blast holes in my hair shafts like there’s no tomorrow, and not really put much colour into it for the trouble, so I went for a yellowy-red instead of a true red, and that’s why I always go to ginger instead of bright red (ginger has the red and yellow molecules in it, bright red has very few yellow molecules) for the first thing I do to my hair after I’ve had it very light blonde for a while.
And that’s why, now, I can either let the red build up to restore my hair or I can make it brown to restore it. If I hadn’t bothered with the red, the brown dye would most likely give my hair a disgusting green tinge.
And that’s why I don’t say I can “repair” it (because nothing does that, hair is dead when it grows out of the scalp, you can’t “heal” a dead thing), I say “restore” or “fix” because I can make it look like it’s fine, but if you put my hair under a microscope it would probably look awful.
You mentioned semi permanent colours – I’ve been told they’re really good for my hair, why don’t you use those instead?
Semi permanent colours only affect the outside of the hair shaft. They don’t have the chemicals they need to penetrate the shaft and add colour to the inside. If you imagine my white hair is an empty drinking straw, the semi-permanent is like getting a felt pen and colouring the outside of that straw – it won’t make it more stable on the inside, and the hair is still left too fragile.
The permanent colours put the pigment inside the hair shaft – so they’re less “healthy” if you have perfect, undyed hair, but they’re more “healthy” if your hair has no pigment in the middle.
I cant visualise all this crap about molecules, can you explain it with some diagrams?
Yes! Here’s a video I made, that explains it with diagrams and a whiteboard (in case you missed it above):
I’m away until Mon/Tue, this is prescheduled. What is micellar water?
Are you someone who sees a new word and wonders what it means? I was looking into whey protein substitutes today and learned that the word “micellar” isn’t just a brand name. It’s a biological term, and I’m going to explain it to you in the most straightforward way I can, without dumbing it down. For me, it’s been interesting to put a name to a scientific process that I know well – it happens every time I wash my hands. There is a glossary under the first picture to help with key terms.
What is a micelle?
It’s a collection of surfactant molecules that are dispersed in a liquid colloid. In an aqueous solution (a liquid made of mostly water), the surfactant usually has a head that is attracted to water (called a hydrophilic head) and a tail that is repelled by water (a hydrophobic tail). Soap forms surfactants, and the tail buries itself in the dirt in your hands, then the head pulls that dirt away by being attracted to the water from the tap.
Because the heads love water and the tails hate it, if you put a collection of surfactants in water, the heads which love water all want to be as close to the water as possible, and the tails want to get away, so if there’s enough of them and its warm enough, they form 3D balls like this one:
This is known as a micelle.
surfactants: These are something you find in soap, shampoo, and household cleaning products such as washing up liquid, laundry detergent and bleach, it’s a type of molecule that cleans things. Imagine it looking a bit like a tadpole, except it’s not a living thing.
dispersed: When molecules split up and move around in a liquid without dissolving, they are said to have dispersed. Football fans disperse after the game ends.
colloid: A colloid is a liquid that is full of particles that haven’t dissolved but have still mixed into the liquid so it doesn’t feel grainy or gritty usually. An example is milk. Another example is any emulsion such as paint.
How do scientists get them to form in micellar water?
It takes two things to make them form, because naturally, the surfactants just float to the edges of the liquid where the tails can be away from the water. To make a micelle, you need (drum roll please, these two factors are what makes most chemical reactions happen)… higher temperature and higher concentration. That’s because of something you should have learned around age 15 in school science – collision theory. You probably know the process even though you might not have been able to put a name to it. Basically, all chemical reactions can only happen if two things collide with each other. If they don’t make that connection, they will go about their separate ways and nothing changes. It’s like how two people can’t make a baby if they’ve never met (assuming they’re not doing it in a lab). So collision theory says there’s a few things that can increase the chance of those collisions taking place, which increases the amount of a product we can make with the ingredients. The three things that affect the rate of a reaction (usually) are temperature, concentration of reactants (ingredients), and pressure. Technically, it all comes down to pressure, but we usually split it out into the causes of the pressure (temperature and concentration) to make it more clear so people can repeat the experiment. Experiments have to be repeatable.
So they heat the water and surfactants, they add loads and loads of surfactants to the water, and they get these micelles, which are basically balls of soap that are effectively stuck in the water, because the water-loving heads are all facing outwards.
What’s so special about micelles? Why is micellar water the Next Big Thing?
Firstly, it’s got the word “water” in the name so it appeals to the all-natural crowd. Secondly, it’s got soap in it. So it’s going to get you clean.
Micelles, as we said above, are only formed in very high concentrations of your surfactant, and because it forms those protective spheres, it’s less harsh on your skin, your hair, etc, than lower concentrations. A good example of this is sodium laureth sulphate. I’ve said before that, as a surfactant (a cleaning thing), it’s pretty damn good. In lower concentrations, it’s known to be quite harsh on the skin and hair – so the less you use at any given time, the more it will dry your skin or hair out. How can this be? How does this possibly make sense? Imagine the surfactants, the tiny molecules of sodium laureth sulphate, as sharp sticks:
When the sticks are on their own, and facing in every direction, they will poke you and hurt you. When they are arranged like this, they can’t hurt you because the sharp bits are all facing each other in a big sphere that protects you:
In detergents, soaps, and other surfactants, the pointy end is not a sharp stick, it’s actually a tail (although technically that’s still an analogy). It doesn’t like water, so it buries itself into the dirt in your hands, so that, when the water is washed off, the heads (which love water) swim away and the tails are still holding the bits of dirt. The problem comes when there isn’t enough dirt and that’s when it causes dry skin and hair – when they bury themselves in the natural oils of your skin and hair, the ones you want to keep, and then they swim away with them.
So what use is a micelle in water? If there’s no tails, how does it get the dirt off?
It makes surfaces easier to clean, by lowering the surface tension of water. This makes it easier to get into all the nooks and crannies (when you wipe a cloth over a surface, for example), and is also used for washing clothes. It has loads of uses inside the human body such as to get pharmaceuticals to release in a certain place or at a certain time, and special micelles in your liver (formed from fatty acids) are what absorb key vitamins including vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. What it can’t do, is get grease out, or anything else that won’t just wipe off. So micellar water will work a bit better than plain water, but not as well as real soap, but the micellar water will be less drying to the skin or hair.
So effectively, Micellar Water is very watered down inactive soap. It will get you clean because it has the exact same properties as any surfactant, and it will be gentle because it’s very watered down and all the pointy bits are facing inwards.
Have you tried micellar water? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments and I’ll reply when I get back 🙂
I am going to discuss what these two terms ought to mean, and what they really mean. Before anyone’s all like “how surprising,” this actually is surprising to a lot of people. I have known about this issue for a very long time, because I was lucky enough to find out when I was a child, and have since grown my understanding, but some people aren’t afforded that luxury. Don’t be sending me or other people hate for bringing this out into the open – it’s about time people stopped being too afraid of looking dumb to ask real questions about science, which means arrogant people have to stop looking down on those individuals who don’t have the same educational background, and create a learning environment.
I am very disillusioned with the ingredients industries (cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical industries) because a long time ago, they created two nonsensical phrases that they can put on more expensive products and get you to buy them, believing you’re doing the right thing for the environment, the animals, and of course, your body. Unfortunately, some very unethical companies have really cashed in on this, and are drowning out the genuine well-intentioned companies with products derived from plants they’ve grown and harvested themselves.
Those companies are real, I will say that from the beginning. I have nothing but love for products made from olive oil, coconut anything, and any of my favourite herbs. Whether they’re “natural” or “chemical free” is neither here nor there.
Since the terms “all natural” and “no chemicals” are effectively undefinable, they are being put on the packaging for all sorts of crap you’d never want to own in a million years, let alone justify the price tag.
Lets start with chemicals.
A few years ago, a governor tried to bring a bill to the Senate in America to ban the use of dihydrogen monoxide. Her list of the dangers of this terrible chemical was huge – it was known to be deadly in small amounts, it was colourless and odourless, meaning you might not be able to detect its presence, it’s chemical basis, hydroxyl radical, had been shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters in humans and all other animals. This chemical is found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds. It’s used in shampoo, conditioner, hair colourant, it can also be found in biological and chemical weapons manufacture and it’s an industrial solvent.
Based on this information, 86% of Americans would support a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Would you?
I haven’t given you any important information on what dihydrogen monoxide actually is, and when the facts are twisted this way, when a harmless compound is given its chemical nomenclature (the names by which everything in the universe is known to scientists), it sounds more dangerous.
Does this picture give you a clue as to what dihydrogen monoxide actually is?
It’s water. If you were ready to sign a petition to ban water, can you see how easily ingredients companies twist the facts to their advantage to try and get you to avoid common ingredients, so you spend more money on things that don’t contain chemicals?
Everything in the universe is made from chemicals. You know about the Periodic Table, right? That everything that possibly exists is made of atoms, and that these atoms are all elements, which are the things with the symbols on the periodic table. I use the Periodic Table symbols for Platinum (Pt) and Silver (Ag) to make writing “platinum and silver blonde” quicker, by saying “Pt and Ag blonde” instead. That’s all those chemical names are. They’re just a way of calling an ingredient by its exact combination of elements in its molecules so that we can reproduce the same things again and again. Take salt water. It’s totally natural, but it’s chemical name could reasonably be sodium chloride dihydrogen monoxide. Doesn’t that sound horrible? But it’s totally precise (hardcore nomenclaturists are crying right now at my simplification).
This is important because of this: In science, lots of similar molecules are all called “salts” including sodium chloride – sea salt – but also sodium iodide, potassium fluoride, and potassium chloride, to name but a few. Some of them behave very differently to others. In science, it pays to be exact about ingredients names. In fact, labelling law in some countries forbids the manufacturers from calling a lot of things by their normal names, to avoid confusion. For example, did you know that the plant known in England as plantain, hailed as one of the seven miracle herbs of the Celtic world, is not even remotely related to Caribbean plantain, which is a savoury banana. You can buy plantain chips in the Caribbean aisle of the English supermarket, but they’re made of Caribbean plantain, which could be confusing! To make it more confusing, rabbits can eat plantain (from England) but not plantain (from the Caribbean)! This is the exact reason that scientists have given everything in the world a chemical name. Every single thing.
So the only thing anyone could sell that would truly contain “no chemicals” would be a big jar of nothing! And even then, the jar is made of chemicals such as glass, stone or plastic. Manufacturers really cash in on this meaningless term because they can bend it to mean whatever they want it to mean. One minute, “no chemicals” means “nothing with a ‘y’ in it” another it means “no metals” (salt is 50% metal), they pick the meaning, don’t explain it to us customers, and charge us more money for the product because it’s supposed to be healthier.
As customers, we expect “no chemicals” to mean something we can’t quite define – nothing unhealthy or made in a lab, for starters. Something healthier, or that’s more natural. I would like the phrase “no chemicals” to be banned by labelling laws.
Natural is another word that should be banned from all packaging. Everything we have on this planet is natural. People often think scientists go round attaching atoms to each other to make molecules with special properties, the so-called “secret formula” of outdated horror movies.
Scientists like these are as non-existent and unreal as the vampires, werewolves, golems and slime monsters they invent or destroy in those films. I promise you. I’m a fully qualified chemistry teacher and I have worked in a pharmacy, and I have never once seen scientists create nearly-magic stuff from nothing. I repeat, everything we have, everything we’ve made, it’s all come from our natural planet. But that doesn’t mean you’d want to eat it. What you’re expecting from “all natural” products seems obvious – plant derived, herbs, cleansing energy, ancient goodness, things you could make in your kitchen. Unfortunately, that’s not always what products contain when they’re labelled “all natural.”
Often, subversive companies use the “all natural” or “natural ingredients” type labelling to make you think something is more wholesome than it really is. For example, Walkers Sensations were claiming their crisps (potato chips) were “made with natural ingredients.” Let’s break this down and define it by what it isn’t:
Supernatural means anything that occurs which is physically unexplainable.
Unnatural means “not natural.”
Natural means anything that occurs which is physically possible and explainable by the triple discipline of biology-physics-chemistry (aka science) through empirical means (in other words, by testing it).
Therefore everything in the universe that can be explained by physics is natural.
I asked a physicist if crisps were explainable by biology chemistry and physics. He agreed. There may have been investigator bias because I am a chemist asking the question and I already knew the answer, but I don’t think it affected his answer because it’s a simple “natural or supernatural.”
When you look at labelling, this is the definition that is often used.
The other definition, and the one people expect “natural” to mean, is “occurs in nature.” Crisps don’t occur in nature, you don’t just find them lying around. The label did say natural ingredients, so I will point out bottles of vegetable oil (the second ingredient on the back) aren’t just sitting around in the jungle waiting to be picked up, a plant has to be processed to get it. Face creams, soaps, shower gels, miso soups, and tubs of beans don’t occur in nature. They have all been subjected to a process even if that process is simply mixing them together. If we were to say natural means “any ingredient that occurs in nature, that has been processed and combined with other ingredients” then anything in the universe could be classed as natural. The use of the word is completely binary, with no middle ground. Therefore, if a law were to regulate use of the word natural, you wouldn’t be able to put it on any natural products because you wouldn’t find them occuring in nature with “natural” labels on them. The only 100% natural way of life is to become fruitarian. Which as I discuss elsewhere is shockingly unhealthy and lacks amino acids in the quantities needed for brain, muscle and organ function in humans over the long term (but sounds very romantic). So no, that toothpaste isn’t natural, and yes, that orange is natural, and they’re both made of chemicals, because all things in nature are made 100% from chemicals (check out the “Periodic Table of Elements – also called “the periodic table of CHEMICAL elements”) and they’re all completely natural.
Natural and no-chemicals labelling has become a marketing ruse to get you to pay over the odds for a less effective product because then they don’t have to actually spend time and money on Research and Development to make a product that functionally competes with the brand leaders.
The ideals of the original companies that began labelling their products with these words have been subverted by large corporations and smaller swindling start-ups for financial gain, because you can’t prove that anything (even 2-hydroxypropanoic acid*) is not natural.
* 2-hydroxypropanoic acid is also called lactic acid and is made in the human body, it builds up in muscles after exercise causing that familiar stiff feeling.