As geologists, we like to go on about how important minerals are in everyday life, which led me to wonder; what are the highest profile minerals around? Well, I chose to look at products available for household consumption; including:
Lucozade offers me a drink that will: ‘Help Replenish 4 minerals lost in sweat’, It turns out thought that the product, clearly is not developed in conjunction with any geologists; as the minerals, they specify are much more elemental: ‘sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium’. While variety of food describes itself as ‘full of minerals and vitamins’ – although actually contains elements...
While Dove has incorporated ‘beauty mineral’ into its products, strangely the substance that the world should be clamouring for is remarkably common:
‘pearlescent mica, a beauty mineral that is known to enhance the natural look of skin and to help underarms look gorgeous all day long.’
But what affect has the mineral water industry, cosmetics and lucozade had on people’s perceptions of minerals? - to find this out, I decided on an impromptu survey, asking shop assistants and scared members of the public as to what they thought a mineral was:
|Pure and fresh - but watering down minerals?
2/16 (so 1/8th) fell for the bait (actually this was in Superdrug, which is a quite interesting) and decided that they ‘make your skin look good’.
9/16 (so just over half) went with the answer I was after along the lines of ‘make rocks’
1/16 sheepishly didn’t know, but that’s fair enough.
Given that the official (ish – I got it off Wikipedia) definition of a mineral is:
‘An element or chemical compound that is normally crystalline and that has been formed as a result of geological processes’
The usage of the word ‘mineral’ in the cosmetic industry is fairly well balanced, after all, look on the back of your toothpaste you’ll see a whole host of minerals (usually with nifty pharmaceutical names) which have been derived from the squeezing and heating of the earth’s crust over time. However, the usage of mineral in terms of water and drinks – is clearly absurd, yes minerals are composed of elements; but if your water had little bits of olivine sitting in it, then it would be mineral water. Just because it has come out of a spring and has a few more/less bicarbonate ions than water from the tap does not mean it is mineral, it’s just elemental/compoundal.
So how does this affect communicating geoscience?
Well, it’s rather difficult to say, any exposure to the earth’s materials can be said to be beneficial, plus an inquisitive individual may well wonder where on earth you get ‘pearly’ mica from – and discover the science. The usage of ‘mineral’ in mineral water though, could be lead to misleading thoughts – particularly in children, whom experience of minerals in other forms is limited. However here in the UK at least, mineral water does try to prove it’s ‘volcanicity’ via the geology its water has flowed through – but this hides a potentially more concerning thought.
|Present in many everyday products -
Maybe it’s just me who wants to know what the stuff we us every day is derived from – but it seems sad that companies can use the word ‘minerals’ in such a manner as the public understanding of them is so low.