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Why is baking soda considered “natural”?

Baking soda is included in so many “natural products” now, and touted by many bloggers as a great skin treatment (there are equally as many horror stories and chemical burns that result from its use). Why is it that this chemical is considered “natural” by many intelligent, otherwise discerning individuals?

The logic goes, in the deodorant industry, baking soda is NOT aluminum, therefore it must be better. (this is kind of true, I would prefer baking soda to aluminum which is linked to a host of adverse medical outcomes) And, baking soda sounds natural, grandma used it, so….. it must be OK, right?

Let’s talk a little bit about what baking soda actually is, from Wikipedia:

Sodium bicarbonate (IUPAC namesodium hydrogen carbonate) is a chemical compound with the formula NaHCO3. It is a salt composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. Sodium bicarbonate is a white solid that is crystalline but often appears as a fine powder.

So, it’s a chemical compound. How is it made?

NaHCO3 is mainly prepared by the Solvay process, which is the reaction of sodium chlorideammonia, and carbon dioxide in water. Calcium carbonate is used as the source of CO2 and the resultant calcium oxide is used to recover the ammonia from the ammonium chloride. The product shows a low purity (75%). Pure product is obtained from sodium carbonate, water, and carbon dioxide as reported in one of the following reactions. It is produced on the scale of about 100,000 tonnes/year (as of 2001).[59]

NaHCO3 may be obtained by the reaction of carbon dioxide with an aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide. The initial reaction produces sodium carbonate:

CO2 + 2 NaOH → Na2CO3 + H2O

Further addition of carbon dioxide produces sodium bicarbonate, which at sufficiently high concentration will precipitate out of solution:

Na2CO3 + CO2 + H2O → 2 NaHCO3

Wow, the Solvay process. Sounds fun! A reaction of salt, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. What about this is natural? Further research indicates that there are actually deposits of baking soda occurring naturally in Colorado, called nahcolite. It is mined in a similar process to coal mining, and run through a solution mining process, then eventually becomes the baking soda we know and love. So perhaps this is the logic of ‘it’s natural.’ It’s a stretch, though, as nahcolite is quite rare, and guess what else occurs naturally in nature? Arsenic, a deadly poison.

The way things are, anything can be called natural and no one can do much about it. The FDA does not regulate the use of the word, although there is a petition to encourage the FDA to regulate the use of baking soda and the phrase “all natural” in cosmetic products (so many people have broken out or experienced rashes from baking soda use on the skin).

Natural products should contain simple, wholesome ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils. As a consumer, vote with your wallet! Yes, there is always a risk that an individual may be allergic to a natural ingredient, but at least they will have done what they can to avoid applying irritating chemicals masquerading under the guise of “all natural.”


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