Marketing and the Appeal to Nature Fallacy
What is the "appeal to nature" fallacy? This is a logical fallacy or belief often used as an argument that something is good or safe because it's "natural" or used directly from nature, and bad or unsafe because it is man-made or synthetically manipulated.
This logical fallacy can often be found in contexts where nature and science coexist, such as medicine (especially alternative medicine), food, and other natural processes. Like other logical fallacies, people try to pass off the appeal to nature as proof to support their claims, but lack the evidence that it needs to support a fact.Companies that dabble in deceptive marketing like greenwashing and cleanwashing play on this fallacy to promote their products as "natural," "clean," and "organic," which environmentally conscious people often link to being ecofriendly. Unfortunately, in most instances this is not the case; and sometimes, this way of thinking can be dangerous.
One industry I've noticed lean ~heavily~ on the appeal to nature fallacy is skincare. Let's take a look at two examples of deceptive marketing in skincare that use the appeal to nature fallacy.
"Natural Ingredients are Safer in Skincare"
The idea or belief that a product using "natural ingredients" is better or safer than synthetic ones is a fallacy. This gave rise to the "no nasties" marketing. According to Jen Novakovich, cosmetic scientist and science communicator at The Eco Well, "ensuring safety is very challenging for natural materials." Considering natural ingredients are not held to the same stringent safety standards as synthetic ones, it's hard to prove that they're more safe. In fact, natural ingredients like botanical extracts are more likely to cause negative skin reactions like irritant contact dermatitis and photosensitivity.
"Chemical Sunscreen is Bad for the Environment"
One major appeal to nature fallacy that is still prominent in the sustainability community and pushed by the media is the idea that chemical sunscreens are bad for the environment, and the mineral alternative is safe because it's "all natural." People are mostly concerned about chemical sunscreen's effect on coral reefs, which is thought to cause coral bleaching. This gave rise to the "reef safe sunscreen."
One of the first studies to raise this concern was published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 2016. However, studies like these are done in a lab, and expose coral to high levels of sunscreen chemicals; levels that they would never see in the environment.
Dr. Michelle Wong, cosmetic scientist and science communicator at Lab Muffin Beauty Science, reminds us periodically that there ~still~ isn't any evidence that chemical sunscreens cause coral bleaching in the wild.
Jen from The Eco Well also makes a good point that the alternative to chemical sunscreen, mineral sunscreen, is not inherently more ecofriendly than its counterpart. In fact, zinc mining (zinc being the main ingredient in mineral sunscreens) is exploitative and can cause environmental contamination!
Although these are only two examples, there are many more appeal to nature fallacies used in the skincare industry. Next time you're shopping, pay close attention to see if you can identify them! Make sure to share your findings in our Facebook group, I'd be interested to see what you find!