Stone Age Tool for the 21st Century -

When Natural Pumice Isn't

by Stuart R. Ward
What is natural pumice?

Can the product commonly found in stores really be called natural? For what usually passes as natural pumice is so far removed from its original state, claims of being natural stretch the word's meaning to...well, meaninglessness.

Maybe it all comes down to what one's definition of natural is. If you mean derived from a natural product, vs. synthetic ingredients - like the glass-based artificial pumice stones also on the market - then, yes, ...kinda sorta.

Carrying this logic to the extreme, though, since everything under the sun originally comes from nature (glass coming from sand, for example), there's nothing that is not natural. Natural plastic! Natural junk food!

Here's the definition I resonate with, from Webster's New World Dictionary: "Produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured."

Few realize the vast majority of so-called natural pumice body care products are adulterated through an energy-guzzling, high tech process. While perhaps not made from artificial ingredients to speak of, they are a world away from  pumice's pristine state.

Not knowing any better, one might assume store's neatly wrapped, soap-bar-shaped pumice was cut from some huge pumice slab, as from a New Hampshire granite quarry or something.

No such critter. Here's how such natural pumice comes about. First the stone is collected, often with polluting earth-moving equipment, from huge open-pit mines, often in distant countries. Then stones are crushed to granule and powder with giant, kilowatt-thirsty machinery, heated up with similar energy-guzzling gusto, along with a stirred-in liquid foaming agent and epoxy binder. The resulting hot bubbling froth is then injected into uniform molds.

Sounds manufactured, no?

But, hey, it's using a natural main ingredient. The frothing agent may be one, too, but why do I doubt it?

Granted, such products can have advantages over whole, un-reformed pumice stone, depending on what one wants or expects. They offer a uniform filing surface with predetermined abrasion level, such as it is; some are easier to keep hygienic, and, of course, they're widely available.

I don't discount their place in the market so much as take exception to such businesses participating in the green-wash marketing epidemic these days. They try to spin away all the yucky brown in the product with that magical word natural.  Its actual environmental hue, of course, is not so verdant.
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Reformulated pumice might be likened to spongy white bread, wheat grain's original goodness eviscerated for long shelf life, yet whose maker then brags how it's fortified to "Build Strong Bodies 12 Ways."

Or fresh-frozen orange juice, available by the ton for global distribution. It may be "all natural" but a far cry from oranges fresh-picked from the tree and squeezed. True, no artificial ingredients, no chemicals, no dyes (one hopes), so it must be as good as fresh.

All right, I'm comparing pumice and oranges. The analogy goes only goes so far. The point is, over 99% of touted natural pumice products are so far removed from stones' original state that claims of being natural fly in the face of reason of any discerning shopper.

This might be forgiven if the product offered superior or even equal abrasive qualities. Not so. Researchers' most dedicated efforts to replicate nature's solid foam abrasiveness fail miserably. As John Wayne might've said in some parallel universe, "Pilgrim, that thar funny, crushed down, glued-back pumice don't hold a candle to true grit."

Besides losing nature's superior working edge, gone as well is the simple profound elemental experience of working with pure earth.

So, one might ask, if true natural pumice is so superior, why isn't everyone marketing the original stones, like I and a few other entrepreneurs do?

Simple. There's limited availability of any one quality, size, or shape. Product uniformity is god in corporations. They need to regularly crank out such low-end products by the hundreds of thousands to be worth the bother. How do you deal with pumice that, like snowflakes, come in endless sizes and shapes?

You don't.

Hence we have natural pumice that isn't, stones sent to re-form school - "bad stones, bad! " - to become obedient to corporations' mass-marketing uniformity needs. Original sharpness blunted, unique shapes destroyed.

Such product makers, of course, fill a demand. Myriad people want basic foot care products and real, naturally shaped-to-use pumice stones, long heralded for callus removing ability, are in limited supply. But they do the public a disservice branding reformulated pumice as natural, leading less perceptive or time crunched shoppers to believe it's closer to its original form and more eco-friendly than it really is.

Bad marketers, bad!

Again, it all boils down to what your definition of natural is.

There will always be those who stubbornly cling to the notion something's really natural only if you don't mess with it.