An organic change of heart

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Written by Tyler Anderson, Opinion Editor

We have all been indoctrinated to believe “chemicals” are bad and anything “natural” is good. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the devil and essential oils are here to save us, right?

Unfortunately, snake oil salesmen are alive and well, living on in the form of neo-hippies and Gwyneth Paltrow.

There are arguments both for and against utilizing only “natural” products, though the very definition of “natural” as it applies to cosmetics and food is not as clear as we’d like it to be.

According to the FDA website, the “FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives.” This means the term “natural” can mean something different to each individual or company, and they are not all working to serve your best interests.

Take skincare: companies such as Burt’s Bees and Juice Beauty (Paltrow’s beauty brand) tout the efficacy of their products as above and beyond the rest, simply because they are derived from the best nature has to offer.

I fell for this marketing strategy a few years back, eager to let Mother Nature work her magic. But wouldn’t you know it, all of the plant oils and other “natural” ingredients in my face wash were actually proven skin irritants. They left my acne-prone skin red, raw and worse off than before.

Decades worth of testing and research have proven that many synthetic ingredients (think petrolatum and salicylic acid) are safe and effective for everyday use, while certain essential oils, such as lavender, cause cell damage and death over time. Just a little something to think about next time you want to indulge in a Lush bath bomb.

I’m no dermatologist, but the peer-reviewed, scientifically proven evidence is all over the internet and accessible to just about everyone. Don’t let your friend from high school talk you into a pyramid scheme based on the miraculous healing powers of peppermint oil.

The “natural” beauty and health market is growing every year, and while not all of these products are risky investments, it’s best not to let underhanded marketing lead you astray.

Then there’s the GMO debate.

Many seem to immediately equate GMOs, which are just materials that have been changed in some way from their original form on the genetic level, with cancer and pollution. It’s also commonly believed that genetically modified produce needs a vast amount of pesticides to thrive.

Again, this is largely a tactic used to divert attention away from the facts.

GMOs are often created in order to be resistant to disease and insects, which in turn means less potentially cancer-causing pesticides such as Roundup being used. You can’t forget the bees either: many pesticides, “natural” or otherwise, are toxic to our pollinators.

Organic farming not only requires additional land to be cleared, but is also contributing to poisonous runoff and pollution of our water.

It’s awfully tempting to reach for products with the little non-GMO butterfly on the label, but it doesn’t always mean you are making a better choice for your health or the environment.

Large corporations use their near-endless cash flow to lobby against the non-GMO efforts; these kinds of under-the-table dealings and lack of transparency, even when the science may be on their side, is only fueling the mistrust some have of “big business.”

The argument for “all-natural” remedies is largely based on anecdotal evidence passed around Facebook groups or home remedies concocted by our great-great-great-grandparents. Take suggestions of forgoing all man-made things with a grain of salt.

Research into the safety of both naturally occurring and synthetic materials is ongoing, and will continue well into the next century. Advances in technology and science means it will be more difficult for people to get away with selling miracles-in-a-bottle to all but the most gullible.

As tempting as “natural” sounds, it’s not always best for you, and no amount of apple cider vinegar is going to change that.