There’s Soap in Your Mayonnaise!

The word “chemical” is often treated as a bad thing, as many commercial interests want you to reject “chemicals” and “go natural.” As if the natural world wasn’t made of chemicals. The two terms are not opposites.

As a scientist with a degree in chemistry, the surge in chemophobia over the last five years has been both baffling and frustrating.

While there are plenty of toxic substances that we should be well frightened of, there are also many safeguards against their use – by and large, the chemicals you encounter in your day-to-day life are benign, even the ones with the scary unpronounceable names and the ones made from substances that can literally chew your face off (sodium chloride, I’m looking at you). But it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of common-sense-based marketing. Scientific literature is not exactly reader-friendly, and scientists have a long history of alienating themselves from Normal People.

Michelle Wong gives us a basic lesson in surfactants, the chemicals that cause hydrophiles, or water-soluble chemicals, to bind easier with lipophiles, or oily chemicals. Surfactants are pretty much soap, which allows us to rinse oils off our skin, hair, dishes, and clothing with water. But they have many other uses that are necessary to everyday life -like breathing. Read about them at The Toast. -via Metafilter


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It is not like the people who use the lines of reasoning that the article is trying to highlight by paralleling stick to rigorous definitions either. And if the mayonnaise in your fridge doesn't have egg yolk in it, then isn't that playing loose with definitions too?
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The author is full of it. Besides playing fast and loose with definitions, (Soap is not the same as a surfactant and neither are the same as an emulsifier.) the mayonaise in my refrigerator has none of them.

Ignore this article.
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I see a lot of stuff that is not even as bad as "There is soap in your ..." but instead analogous to "The same chemical in X is used to make soap." That becomes even one more step removed from making sense, and in that particular example with soap you could argue anything with olive oil falls under that category that should be labeled as scary.

That said, as dense and hard to read as some journal articles are, it doesn't take much reading skill to look up something on pubmed and get a gist of some research, especially with a little practice. A bit of arithmetic can go a long way to figuring out how dosages compare to real life situations too. It is just important to remember there might be multiple papers, with results discussing different things or disagreeing for some subtle reason. And that unlike newspaper headlines, science journals rarely will label something as good or bad, and instead typically go for some qualitative impact, which may be both good and bad for the same substance in different situations, or just insignificant.
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