Recently Lifehacker published an article that implied that any anti-bacterial product could be replaced with a few drops of essential oils with “proven anti-bacterial properties”. Which is awesome, because the Clarithromycin my doctor gave me makes me feel like the corpse of Wall-E is decaying in my throat. So I’m going to make a nice tea with a few drops of clove and cinnamon essential oils and let them battle the staph aureus colony residing in my lungs.
You may think that no one would be that stupid. If so you probably haven’t spent much time on the internet:
A popular and widely respected website is telling people that rubbing a few drops of water and aloe vera into their hands is equivalent to washing them. A wide audience is learning to walk into a hospital, avoid the dangerous chemical hand sanitizer stations and pull out a homemade alternative.
They have a laughable disclaimer at the bottom “You should know, The Wall Street Journal notes that alcohol-free hand sanitizers don’t have enough clinical studies to prove whether they are as effective or more effective than alcohol-based sanitizers.” The linked Wall Street Journal article is about the effectiveness commercial hand sanitizers using benzethonium chloride and benzalkonium chloride, which have been shown to work in laboratory settings but have less evidence in real world application.
The antibacterial effect of clove oil comes down to a single study. http://www.ias.ac.in/jbiosci/dec2013/835.pdf
The minimum inhibitory concentration was found to be 0.8% for one strain of bacteria and 3.2% for another, both of which were selected because the strains are susceptible to the mechanism of action for the clove oil. Ten drops of clove oil in 4 ounces of water is about 0.4%, so about half of the minimum concentration to affect the most susceptible strain of bacteria in a petri dish.
I commented on the article, but the only response I got was that “everything is a chemical” is obnoxious. “When used loosely, “chemical” means unnatural, potentially unsafe, man-made, harsh, caustic, maybe dangerous, blah, blah, blah… as opposed to “all natural” ingredients which yes, are chemicals but… oh, come on. You get the picture. “
But honestly I don’t get the picture. No one has given a me a new, casual definition for “chemical” that would allow me to tell what is a chemical and what is “natural”, and this article is a perfect example.
|UnnaturalManmade||Produced by distilling fruit juice||Produced by steam distillation of clove leaves, followed by addition of anhydride sodium sulphate as a binder followed by bleaching agents.|
|Potential Acute Health Effects:Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact
(permeator), of ingestion.
Potential Chronic Health Effects:
Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (sensitizer). CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: A4 (Not classifiable for human or
animal.) by ACGIH.
MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells. Mutagenic for bacteria and/or yeast.
TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Classified PROVEN for human. DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Classified Development toxin
[PROVEN]. Classified Reproductive system/toxin/female, Reproductive system/toxin/male [POSSIBLE]. The substance is toxic to blood, the reproductive system, liver, upper respiratory tract, skin, central nervous system (CNS). Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.
|Potential Acute Health Effects:Very hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. Inflammation of the eye is characterized by redness, watering, and itching. Skin inflammation is characterized by itching, scaling, reddening, or,
Potential Chronic Health Effects:
Very hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation.
EFFECTS: Not available. MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Not available. The substance is toxic to the nervous system, mucous membranes. Repeated
or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated or prolonged inhalation of vapors may lead to chronic respiratory irritation.
As far as I can see there are two possible definitions for this colloquial use of “chemical”. One is “substance thoroughly tested for human safety”, because natural products tend to have a lot of “not available” on their MSDS. Unfortunately this would include water, which I am assured is not a chemical. And white sugar, which is a nasty chemical when it is an ingredient in bread, but is all natural if you are making a DIY foot scrub.
That leaves my second definition: “substance I arbitrarily don’t like”. This seems to accurately reflect what people say when they mean chemical, but it is completely subjective and therefore meaningless.
If “chemical” has any new meaning other than that, please let me know.