Shaun Holt and I recently co-wrote a paper for Research Review on the ingredients found in personal care products (e.g. shampoos, lotions and cosmetics). We analyse the recent surge in demand for ‘natural’ products and the beliefs that have been driving it.
We’re not saying that natural products don’t work – in fact, quite the opposite. We’re saying that natural products, just like synthetic ones, can be harmful, beneficial or neutral depending on the dose and upon how they’re used.
The terms “natural”, “chemical free” and “organic” are used frequently to market personal care products. However, the exact meaning of these terms is still unclear for consumers, and the use of these terms on labels is still unregulated in some markets. The purpose of this review is to provide clarity on the meanings of these terms and the implications of their application in the marketing of personal care products. The importance of applying a science-based approach to the assessment and recommendation of personal care products is also emphasised. This review is intended as an educational resource for healthcare professionals (HCPs), including nurses, midwives, pharmacists, and pharmacy assistants.
Cherries are extremely sweet, and are unusual in that they contain more glucose (52%) than fructose (42%). Their bright red colour comes from the carotenes and capsanthin (the E160 colourings) that are present in high quantities throughout the fruit.
Cherry flavour comes from a huge collection of aroma compounds produced naturally by the cherry. To make all of these compounds in the lab, then mix them together in the correct proportions would be ridiculously time-consuming and expensive.
When making artificial cherry flavourings, only the first two compounds are usually added: (Z)-3-hexenol and 2-heptanone. Artificial cherry flavouring thus tastes absolutely nothing like real cherries: it lacks most of the ingredients that give real cherries their delicious flavour.
It’s quite a different story with oranges and lemons, though. Most of the flavour of oranges and lemons comes from (+)-limonene and (-)-limonene, which, by themselves, smell like orange and lemon, respectively.
Inspired by the recent Peach infographic, I set out to find the least natural fruit in existence, and decided it was probably the modern watermelon. Take a look below: which one would you rather eat?
The watermelon, delicious as it is, has increased from 50 mm to 660 mm in diameter, which represents a 1680-fold increase in volume. While ancient “wild watermelons” weighed no more than 80 grams, modern watermelons can range from 2 kg to 8 kg in the supermarket, while the Guiness World Record for the heaviest watermelon recorded exceeded 121 kilograms in the year 2000. Thousands of years of human-induced evolution have worked miracles on these fruits. Let’s not forget that they’re completely artificial.
The most famous example of artificial selection is of course the selective breeding of the feeble teosinte plant into juicy, delicious, North American sweetcorn.
In 9000 years, sweetcorn has become 1000 times larger, 3.5 times sweeter, much easier to peel and much easier to grow than its wild ancestor. It no longer resembles the original teosinte plant at all. Around half of this artificial selection happened since the fifteenth century, when European settlers placed new selection pressures on the crop to suit their exotic taste buds.
That’s all for now… More exciting infographics coming soon. Enjoy! 😉
The book’s subtitle, adventures in perfume and the science of smell is totally accurate (after some rearrangement). If we were to split this book vertically, like an avocado, the first 100 pages would describe the smell of perfume, while the latter 100 pages could be titled adventures in science.
The smell of perfume half tells us the main categories of smell and how altering compounds alters their smell. This half of the book is full of chemical structures and IUPAC nomenclature. This half of The Secret of Scentinspired another perfume-related graphic, which I’m making as we speak. 🙂
The adventures in science part is an exciting journey towards the discovery of the secret of scent (which hasn’t quite yet been discovered, but scientists are getting very close). Two main theories prevail in the science of smell: that odorous compounds are recognised by either (a) their vibrational frequencies; or (b) their chemical shape. This book provides more evidence for the former (vibrational frequencies), implying that it might be possible to predict the smell of a molecule from its infra-red spectrograph! Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t explain chirality, and how humans can perceive chiral enantiomers sometimes of different smells (e.g. orange and lemon) seems to violate this first theory. Or, merging the two theories together, it would seem that our olfactory glands are doing some kind of chiral spectroscopy on the molecules we breathe!
I usually care too much about food labels. If something has monosodium glutamate (E621) or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in it, I’m probably not going to buy it no matter how healthy or delicious the food looks as a whole. (Strangely, I’d be willing to eat it, though.)
Some people care about different ingredients such as “E-numbers”. I made this graphic to demonstrate how “natural” products (such as a banana) contain scary-looking ingredients as well. All the ingredients on this list are 100% natural in a non-GM banana. None of them are pesticides, fertilisers, insecticides or other contaminants.
There’s a tendency for advertisers to use the words “pure” and “simple” to describe “natural” products when they couldn’t be more wrong. With this diagram, I want to demonstrate that “natural” products are usually more complicated than anything we can create in the lab. For brevity’s sake, I omitted the thousands of minority ingredients found in a banana, including DNA 😉
Running is a form of meditation. Murakami says he “doesn’t doesn’t know what he thinks about when he’s running”. When he’s happy, he thinks a little about being happy, and when he’s unhappy, he thinks a little about being unhappy. He says the average human mind isn’t strong enough to sustain a vacuum of thoughts, so random thoughts will seep in occasionally no matter how hard we try to block them out (see my book review on meditation exercises). That sounds like meditation to me.
Murakami started running to recover from an addiction to cigarettes, and has since run multiple marathons, including the original marathon route in Greece (he did it alone, surrounded by traffic!) Running motivated him to write, to give up smoking, and to run even more. Runners compete only against their former selves.
This humorous, autobiographical collection of essays, letters and memories persuades me strongly to get up and run.
“It is gratifying for an author if a book remains in print; it is even more gratifying if no amendment has to be made because of new evidence” — page xi.
Thus, these two outdated statements, left uncorrected by new evidence humoured me:
“The term, “Negro” is used in this book to refer specifically to a West African black with sickle-cell anemia” — page 4.
“The actual population [of India] today is nearly 700 million” — page 11.
But the contradictions stop there. The book suddenly becomes gripping, describing historical events with interdisciplinary knowledge and an excellent arts/humanities/scientific balance. Here are just a few fascinating snippets:
Quinine (without quinine, there’d be no WW2, no Panama Canal, and only 100 million people in India)
Sugar (cultivating sugar was brutal work; about one slave would die per ton of sugar produced)
Cotton (Liverpool was built to cater to the slave-trade)
Tea (an interesting history written from a purely colonial perspective)
Potatoes (the Irish harvested corn very differently due to the unique climate)
Coca (Popeye’s spinach binges were actually shots of cocaine; but Middle America knew no better and per-capita consumption of spinach soared sixfold in a few decades)
Sweet thoughts in this book include:
“Potatoes floating ashore from the wrecked Armada in 1588 were alleged to have colonised western Ireland” — page 238.
Another thought-provoking snippet is this:
“The illegal drug scene is an oddity that if the opiates and the coca derivatives were legalized, the drugs themselves would be cheap and there would be no criminality, no drug scene and much less money-laundering and thousands of addicts would foreshorten their lives and the genes which give rise to addiction (which may or may not exist) would not not multiply as they do now” — page 295.
I think there’s room for a sequel that features another five plants: hemp, cocoa, corn, rice and bananas. Each of them changed the world profoundly, and each come with an abundance of interesting stories to tell.
The topics in this book are so broad, so important, yet so little-known, that they make for excellent conversation. I wish for a sequel. ★★★★★