Dene Godfrey, you are a dangerous man and it looks to me like your in bed with others who share the same interest as you. I talk about the very things you said in your above comments in my new book. I educate consumers about how to tell a toxic product and a profit hungry company from those that care and thank you for validating the very reason I need to do this.

The bottom line is, synthetic chemicals are absolutely bad for us and you all know it. I am confidant you will all attack me but I can sleep at night and that is all that matters. Synthetic chemicals also age the skin and cause greater UV sensitization. I am guessing you all have some kind of justification for all the manufacturing byproducts in products that are carcinogenic as well.

Just because we cannot go back and say we have solid “scientific” data to show people were dying from chemicals doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening either. We are just now more sophisticated with testing. And as for the comment about nail lacquers and eating it and suicide, that is pretty juvenile in thinking!

The above quote was taken from a discussion entitled “Beauty Beware” in the Cosmetics & Beauty Group in LinkedIn which ran from 28 December 2009 until late January, with an impressive 153 comments. I quote this, not to focus on the person making the statement, but rather to focus on the naïve simplicity of the statement about synthetic chemicals being bad for you, with the implication (later confirmed in the discussion) that all natural chemicals are good for you.

A further statement from the same source, in the same discussion:

I would consider Nature identical ingredients that are lab created to be synthetic. I think these ingredients do pose a higher risk of adverse health effects. On the other hand with natural ingredients, I do think there are naturally occurring compounds such as hyaluronic acid if sourced from rooster combs that are not safe for cosmetic use. Nothing from animals should be used on human skin and like wise any Natural ingredient that originates from humans or even the earth that have been proven to have adverse health effects.

The originator of the discussion added (after a long period of silence):

All products weather Natural or man made chemicals, are good if used within limits, any thing consumed in excess is harmful. Even if you eat fresh fruits in excess it may cause indigestion. But it is also true that one cannot beat nature, natural products and natural ingredients are no doubt much healthy and less harmful to living beings in comparision to chemicals.

I am taking these statements as the basis for starting this piece as they seem to be fairly typical of the people who espouse natural chemicals above all synthetics.

I often ask “non-scientific” friends if they believe that ALL natural products are safe, and the answer is mostly “yes”. Then I mention things such as snake venom, poison ivy etc, and they realise that they had not fully thought out their response. The industry (or many players within it – backroom chemists and mulit-nationals alike) are guilty of perpetuating this myth in the manner in which “organic” and “natural” brands are promoted.

Perhaps it is the way the cosmetics industry itself portrays “natural” products, or it may be a spin-off from the food industry, or it could be that people simply want to believe that “Mother Nature” is benign and would never dream of harming precious human lives, because it makes them feel safer. Either way, it seems to me that far too many people subscribe to the simplistic view that natural is safe and synthetic is dangerous. In fact, nature wages chemical warfare on a massive scale. Many species of animals protect themselves with poisons, as do many species of plants. They have evolved these chemical defences over millions of years, and they are highly effective.

I am mystified as to why the writer quoted above considers nature-identical ingredients to pose a higher risk than the natural counterpart. Leaving aside the effects of certain physical processes, all life is purely a series of chemical reactions and operates on a molecular level. The body cannot distinguish between different sources of the same molecule – synthetic molecules do not arrive in the body labeled “Made in China”! Any effect, positive, negative or neutral is absolutely identical if the chemical is truly “nature-identical”. Nor, using the same basic fact and logic, can the body distinguish between synthetic chemicals and naturally-occurring chemicals. Why would it need to, especially as I have (I hope) established that some natural chemicals are, indeed, toxic? In order to be able to identify naturally-occurring compounds, the body would require some form of “molecular memory”, i.e., to refer to some form of library of natural chemicals. This would have to be updated to cope with evolution producing new natural chemicals. I don’t see how these “thought processes” can take place, and I am certainly not aware of any evidence of this. The body deals with each molecule to which it is exposed on a case-by-case basis and either utilises the molecule, excretes it (often after bio-chemical transformation to aid excretion) or it accumulates. One of these processes will occur, and will do so totally independently of the origin of the chemical. Nature-identical is what it says – identical!

There is no need for the body to be able to distinguish between synthetic and natural, because the origin has no bearing on either to benefits or adverse effects of the chemical. There is a level of memory, but this can only use previous contact with chemicals as a reference point. There is still no mechanism that I can imagine whereby the body can distinguish between synthetic and natural origin. If the definition of natural is something that exists in nature, and has not been subjected to ANY chemical change, this would suggest that (assuming that you eat cooked food), a large proportion of the food you eat is not natural, by this definition, as the process of cooking initiates chemical change in many of the chemicals within foodstuffs. So, in effect, much of our diet is comprised of synthetic chemicals. We survive.

I am not sure exactly what is entailed in “beating nature” (from the third quote above), but without the more significant of the many thousands of new synthetic chemicals developed over the past 100 years, most human lives would be significantly shorter (due to the development of pharmaceutical drugs preventing or curing many diseases) and many lives would be much less comfortable (due to chemicals used in plastics and any other modern technology). In many cases, therefore, we HAVE “beaten” nature or, at least, improved on it.

I am not suggesting that all synthetic chemicals have been good for mankind (thalidomide, DDT, for example) but, on balance, the lives of much of the world’s population have been significantly enhanced by chemical technology. There certainly would not be anywhere near 6 billion people inhabiting the planet!

The above view of synthetics is far too simplistic, and does not bear close scrutiny. Nature itself disturbs the balance (whatever the balance actually is!). When the earth was first formed, the balance in the atmosphere contained no, or virtually no oxygen. Thanks goodness that balance was disturbed! Nature is not a sentient being, and there is no true balance – nature is ever-changing. If man died out and cattle roamed the earth freely, the atmosphere would become heavy with methane. That would become the new “balance”, and man would have played no part in it. I may be labouring this point, but it is a fundamental one – the natural balance (in its broadest sense) is human perception – and one not shared by all humans.

I think I can safely state that the concern for the safety of our fellow humans is not one iota less amongst those who advocate the use of synthetic compounds than it is amongst the “eco-warriors” (and I do not intend the use of this term to be taken as derogatory), and it is disingenuous to perpetuate the myth that all synthetic chemicals are “toxic”.

The bottom line is that there is no black or white with either natural or synthetic chemicals – only shades of grey.


Dene Godfrey has been involved with preservatives for cosmetics since 1981, from both technical and commercial angles and has a degree in chemistry. Dene worked for one of the largest manufacturers of parabens from 1992 – 2002, and currently works for a UK company involved in the distribution of ingredients for cosmetics, health care and food. The Boots Company, 1973 – 92, Dene spent 11 years working with bronopol, although he was also involved in the initial development of Myavert C, now known as Biovert – a well-known “non-preservative”. Latterly was responsible (as Technical Manager) for the operation of the Formulation Laboratory and the Microbiology Laboratory. As Technical Manager when at Nipa Laboratories, Dene was responsible for development and sales of new preservative products, mainly into personal care. Developed the Nipaguard range of preservatives and co-patented a preservative system based on phenoxyethanol and IPBC. In 2002, Dene founded MGS MicroPure (as Technical & Sales Director) to compete with the giants of preservation, establishing the Paratexin brand name in the UK and several other markets (EU/ global). MGS MicroPure ceased trading in 2005. Since 2005, Dene has been employed by a major UK distributor of personal care ingredients, with his focus primarily on preservation systems. Dene’s articles are based solely on his personal opinions, observations and research, and are not intended to represent any official position of the part of his employer. Dene obtained a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry from the Open University in 1996. He also obtained the Professional Certificate in Management from the Open University in 1997. He has been an active member of the UK Society of Cosmetic Scientists since 1992, and has served 4 terms on the SCS Council, and is involved with the SCS Social Committee from 1993 to date; from 2004 – 7 as Social Secretary. Dene has presented papers at many SCS meetings and was President of the SCS (2009/10)

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