How do products have so many ingredients?

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Many products I find around the house (shampoo, toothpaste, food, etc.) have their ingredients listed on the packaging, and they all seem to have incredibly long lists.

How does a simple product like toothpaste, found in every house, have *so many* ingredients, and yet still cost only a few £? If you removed just one, surely it would be basically the exact same thing? Do they all get added in the factory, and how did anyone figure out how much of each is needed and why?

Sorry for the list of questions, I just have so many! Thanks 🙂

In: 1

In terms of the ingredients, only a few have an active purpose, let’s use tooth paste as an example.

Your toothpaste probably has 3 “core” ingredients, baking soda, sodium fluoride, and maybe hydrogen peroxide. The baking soda crystals scour your teeth and clean them, the flouride makes your enamel stronger, and the the maybe-peroxide is a bleaching agent if it’s there.

Why the rest? Well you might like mint flavor, so add that in. Mint on it’s own is kind of gross so you might want a non-sugar sweetener, so throw in some saccharine. Now you still have a powder so you want a paste. So you’ll want some water (make it a paste), you want something to keep the paste moist so add some propylene glycol and you want something to make the paste sudsy (otherwise it’s kind of gross and creamy) so you’ll add some complicated science sounding chemicals that all the paste to form suds in your mouth.

The list goes on and one, in the end each chemical has a story. Some combination of chemical scientists and marketing agents got together and researched the problems with their product. “It’s too clumpy” Ok, add more propylene glycol to make it “creamy”. It tastes bad, ok add cinnamon extract. It’s still gross, ok, add some sweeteners. It looks ugly, ok, add some food coloring.

Obviously you can “pick off” specific chemicals if you’d like, but some marketer is going to tell you that 40% of people want feature X. So you craft the product to your customers.

If you really wanted to go old school, you can literally just get a twig and pour some baking soda on it, that’s “nature’s toothbrush”. I’m not being sarcastic, people absolutely do do this. From there you have a wide spectrum of features to craft your ideal brushing experience.

That’s pretty much the way it is for every product. If you look at hair care, each ingredient does some small piece. They form suds, they remove oils, they smell pretty, they make your hair soft, or shiny, or reduce dandruff. etc.