The Why and the What

The Why and the What


Welcome to Pocket Alchemist! 

I started this blog/Instagram page so I would stop ranting at the radio every time I heard a particular advert (strategically left out the company name). Actually to stop my boyfriend complaining about my ranting. This advert had the slogan “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it in your body”, or something along those lines. This grated me so much that it motivated me to at least be proactive enough to start something that I’m passionate about and hopefully I help some people along the way. EFFECTIVE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATION.

To make my point, here are some IUPAC* chemical names which, according to the above advert, should not go into your body because the average Joe can’t pronounce them. I challenge you to try and say them without falling over the words:

  • (2E,4E,6E,8E)-3,7-dimethyl-9-(2,6,6-trimethylcyclohexen-1-yl)nona-2,4,6,8-tetraen-1-ol
    or, as most people know it, Vitamin A which is actually a group of compounds.
  • 2-[3-[(4-amino-2-methylpyrimidin-5-yl)methyl]-4-methyl-1,3-thiazol-3-ium-5-yl]ethanol
    or what we like to call Vitamin B1
  • Oxidane
    aka water… I know, I thought the IUPAC name was dihydrogen oxide. I was shook.
  • 4,5-Bis(hydroxymethyl)-2-methylpyridin-3-ol
    also known as Vitamin B6

You want, actually NEED, these in your body. 

Here is an example of how things can get out of hand when scientific communication is not effective… cue anti-vaxxers (another topic for another day – I encourage all anti-vaxxers to keep reading, I won’t persecute you. That’s not the point of this blog.)

I found this on a SAYAS blog post who got it on PHD Comics which a lovely website for some procrastination.

I don’t think the advertisers on the radio were referring to vitamins, obviously. They were aiming it at additives and preservatives (I will do a post on this in the future). The problem is, now you’ve demonised ALL chemicals and how do you expect people not in the scientific world to figure out what is an ok chemical and what isn’t. Which chemical is all hype with no follow through and which is the wonder ingredient? It’s difficult enough for me who is at least a little armed with some chemical knowledge.

That brings me to backing myself and giving you my background. I am a South African scientist with an MSc in Supramolecular Chemistry (cool crystals and thermodynamics) and some experience working in the real world outside of academia. (I won’t exaggerate, I’ve been working now for about 1.5 years as of this post). While I can pronounce and understand those chemicals I showed earlier, sort of, I still have to ask my mom how taxes work. Honestly guys, I was not ready.

So that’s the WHY.


I want to be your personal researcher, wade through the information and lay it out for you in a way that makes sense for all you non-scientists/laymen/non-nerdy folk. I’m doing this because I want to know myself and I thought I’d try to share as I go. You’re welcome Susan. I will focus on ingredients used in cosmetics and expand from there.

I hope I can contribute in some small way to intelligent and better-informed decisions when considering what to buy/recommend/condemn.

I am open to HELPFUL (I see you grammar nazi) criticism and corrections. I am a scientist and theories and ideas are always evolving as new evidence comes to light. That doesn’t mean that what we (the scientists) did was wrong and scandalous and we deserve to be crucified for it. It means we can admit that we were using the best idea at the time while we worked on improving it. Progress. Join me on my research journey to help people buy with their eyes and minds wide open and to enjoy the learning process along the way.

References and links

*IUPAC: International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. IUPAC is the universally-recognized authority on chemical nomenclature and terminology

*Cover photo from BBC Science Focus Magazine

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