FrictionLabs chalk: lots of false statements in their website. I would not trust them


Original Post
Chunghao Phillip Shih · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 0

My friend asked me about chalk by FrictionLabs (frictionlabs.com) since I have a PhD in Materials Science and Engineer and have been climbing for 15 years. Their product is “a lot” more expensive than other brands. Typically we can buy climbing chalk for well under $1 per oz, but FrictionLbab’s product is at least 2.5 times that price. So I looked through their website and. I was blown away and furious/sad/upset about their marketing scam. So I decided to wright up this review/report.
This review is about the false(?) information that FrictionLabs conveys, not the review of their actual product.

Summary:
My own Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with Energy Dispersive X ray Spectroscopy (EDX) experiment suggests that Metolius chalk is almost 100% MgCO3 with no CaCO3 and no major impurities. I suspect that FrictionLabs is using false data for it’s own market purposes. Also, what FrictionLabs says in its website actually contradicts itself. I would NOT trust a company who uses this type of false market scheme.
If you really want safe MgCO3, you can buy from the nutrition supplement industries. They sell food grade MgCO3 at the equivalent of 70% off compared to the price from Frictionlabs. However, a baking process to remove water (moisture) might be necessary to treat the MgCO3 from nutrition supplement industries.

1: Background:
FrictionLabs claims that other chalk brands (Metolus, evolve and such) all have significant amounts of impurities like drying agents, heavy metals and other fillers. They claim that (in their own words) :

All climbing chalks claim to be 100% Magnesium Carbonate. When you run the tests though, the truth is that they all have significant amounts of impurities, drying agents, heavy metals, and other fillers.

We did our research and started engineering a far more pure form of Magnesium Carbonate”.

We use a proprietary process to create chalk with an extremely high Mg:Ca ratio

Before we showed up on the scene, all chalk was pretty much the same: bad. So we did our research and started engineering a far more pure form of Magnesium Carbonate

Their main argument is that other brand of chalk is bad and their chalk is better in turns of creating friction and in turns of health concerns. I strongly disagree with those statements and I will explain why:

Section 2: my own analysis using SEM/EDX
I happen to have some climbing chalk by Metolius. I also have access to a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with Energy Dispersive X ray Spectroscopy (EDX) capability. So I used it to look at my Metolius climbing chalk. The Back Scattered Electron (BSE) detector would show me different contrast (grey level) for MgCO3 (chalk) and CaCO3. Guess what? There is only one phase. The EDX tells me that there is Mg, O and C in my sample (no other element is detected). It also says that Mg to Oxygen atomic ratio is 1:3, suggesting it’s MgCO3. Other impurities are of low concentration and cannot be detected. This is very different from theFrictionLabs report.

What’s wrong with Friction Lab’s data?
If you study their website carefully, all their scientific claim comes from “one” report by “one” man, Dr. Ingram, Consultant Geology and Geochemistry. While the company claims that “A team of world-class geologists and chemists recently conducted independent tests on 5 of the most common chalks for rock climbing”. That report is just not of high quality and brings up a lot of questions. It uses the “Bruker Tracer III potable X-ray Fluorescence instrument”. According to the instrument vender’s website, The instrument comes with a software that should tell you the weight (or atomic) % of the sample, which is the purpose of the measurement.
https://www.bruker.com/products/x-ray-diffraction-and-elemental-analysis/handheld-xrf/tracer-iii/overview.html
In that report, the weight or atomic % of various elements was never reported. It just shows you Photon counts (Table 1) and the Spectra (Figure 1). Anyone with a materials science background would agree that this type of reporting would raise alarms. The most important data is missing!!

You will also find one chart in their website with 5 blue columns with Y axis labeled “Magnesium:Calcium Carbondate”. Again, this is not very scientific axis label. Do you mean weight % of Mg:Ca? or MgCO3: CaCO3? Do you mean atomic %? Moreover, I seriously doubt the authenticity of the data, which suggest 2 products have 9 times more CaCO3 than MgCO3, and two other product have more CaCO3 than MgCO3. They are claiming this while all other companies claim there product is 100% MgCO3 and while my instrument tells me Metolius chalk is ~100% MgCO3. Who do you choose to believe?

One last important thing on the Mg:Ca ratio and that column plot is that nowhere in the XRF report will you find data to support the column plot. You will find some numbers in Table 1 from the report. But no matter how you plot them, they just don’t fit what you see in the column. This also raises questions about the authenticity of the column plot. Where are the raw data and why are them not in the official report by Dr. Ingram?

Section 3: In this section, I am elaborating more about chalk (MgCO3)

3.1: Chalk (MgCO3) itself is a drying agent. It was added to salt to make salt flow more freely (Wikipedia). Why would anyone put other drying agent into MgCO3, which is itself a drying agent? Chalk is very cheap (when you buy bulk), so any company who wants to put other drying agent inside chalk is likely for the enhanced performance.

Other chalk has fillers that don’t absorb moisture, which gets in the way of your skin and the hold.

3.2 What about other fillers? MgCO3 itself is sometime used as filler for other application partly because it is dirt cheap(in bulk). In my opinion, other brands just don’t have a lot of incentive to put other fillers in chalk.

3.3 what about heavy metals?
If you really care about heavy metal, you can buy food grade MgCO3. Yes, people eat chalk as food supplement. It goes at less than $1/oz, cheaper than climbing chalk.
http://www.bulksupplements.com/magnesium-carbonate.html?gclid=CjwKEAjwlfO3BRDR4Pj_u-iO2U0SJAD88y1SLCLq-QTLrsoVOLVENTppdbN6tcF39f3yb6Zz4UPcbxoCAbXw_wcB
Be ware that this might have water in it since it’s not designed for climbing. But you can easily back out the water ~180 to 200 C (390F).
Also, please read this sentence from Wikipedia about the term heavy metal: “Writing in 2002, Duffus concluded that so many different definitions had been used in the previous 60 years for it as to make the term "effectively meaningless””. What heavy metals do you mean? Can you confirm that other brands have heavy metal (what elements) and your chalk has no such elements? They are putting hard statements without showing sound proof. I feel that they want to use the scary world “ heavy metal” to scare you into buying their product.

Section 4 Some other statements on their website that I found questionable

We use a proprietary process to create chalk with an extremely high Mg:Ca ratio

The most important application for MgCO3 is to use it to make MgO powder, which is then make into parts for high temperature application. The industry has known to make fairly pure MgCO3 for a long time. And buying (in bulk) relative high purity MgCO3 (98 weight % and above) is not difficult and is not expensive. Because of this, I just don’t see how other company would buy product that have significant CaCO3 content (10wt % CaCO3 would seem a lot for my standard) especially when they all claim that they are selling 100% MgCO3.
This is what I found in my Metolius chalk, it’s ~100% MgCO3 and has no Ca in it. There is no proprietary process. Honestly, you can probably separate CaCO3 from MgCO3, but it will cost you a lot of money and capital investment. If you want purer MgCO3, just buy it pure, because it is a lot cheaper than trying to separate the two.

Our chalk has no harmful drying agents or impurities. We've run the tests - you don't want to be breathing what's in traditional chalk.
Let’s just be clear. There are no harmful drying agents in other brands. If there is, what chemicals are they? MgCO3 itself is a drying agent, so if there are other type of drying agent, it’s not necessarily worse when breath in. It depends on what other drying agents are. I am not talking about science. It’s just basic logical thinking. This whole demonizing other brand thing is all based on a questionable report. OK, if we just trust your report for a moment, Table 1 and Figure 1 (5 spectra) suggest all 5 types of chalk have the same elemental fingerprint. Chalk C (FrictionLabs) might have less S, Si, Ti and Fe, but it’ still all there. How do you explain that? Your own questionable data even suggest that your product is not that safe. Also, this statement misleads you into thinking that breathing their chalk is not bad for you. Even if it’s 100% MgCO3, you should still try to avoid breath in. If you falsely assume it’s safer and hence become less cautious about the dust, you are being misleaded.

Section 5: What they say on their website actually contradict each other
The highest purity chalk keeps your hands drier, longer. Chalk up less. Get better grip.

Clean chalk protects your skin from overdrying and cracking. Go harder. Go longer. Go more.


I don’t think I need to elaborate too much. I just personally think the above two sentences somewhat contradict each other

Section 6: The Ambassador program: horrible idea for the society as a whole
Yes, we have an Ambassador program where you earn discounts by getting other people to sign up for monthly subscriptions
Earn rewards, promotions and free swag by helping us spread the word about FrictionLabs, and that Chalk Matters.


I would like to talk about their ambassador program. Honestly, to me, it’s just like a direct selling scheme and I really don’t like this type of scheme. You are actually getting discounts and gift (somewhat similar to cash) when your friends subscribe to their chalk and put you in as a reference. This just creates mistrust between people. When your friend recommends this chalk to you, he is (in some way) getting paid (in gifts and discounts) if you buy this expensive product. How can you trust your friend in this type of setup? I want to point out that this type of ambassador program is quite different from a typical sponsorship. In a typical climbing sponsorship, say, if your friend Sharma is a sponsored by a climbing shoe company. If you see his climbing shoes, like them, and end up buying a pair. You don’t put Sharma as your reference during the purchase. Sharma is not “directly” getting any reward because of your purchase. So Sharma has little incentive to convince you to buy the product. FrictionLabs, by creating this direct reward system, is turning the ambassadors into salesmen and eventually creating mistrust in the climbing community. I know that the ambassador program doesn't sound really bad initially. But if you think about the consequences, I think it’s not doing any good for the climbing community.

Section 7: Final words
I just feel sad that it’s becoming really hard to do business while being honest. I hope we can have a system that rewards honesty/transparency and punishes dishonest/deceiving. I feel our system is deeply broken. When others are cheating and not getting caught/punished, the end result is the honest guys don’t get a chance to win. Look at Lance Armstrong as an example. I hope what I write is wrong and FrictionLabs is right. But until I see more rigorous data and analysis, it’s hard for me to believe what they say.

I do not include the EDX spectra here in the article. If you want to see the file, send ma a personal message and we can discuss about sending you the file.

Little Flower, Ph.D.

James T · · Livermore · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 20

1) Lance Armstrong is awesome

2) Good for you for taking the time

3) EDX is not quantitative enough with light elements like C and O, do XRD if you really care

4) A combination of CaCO3 and MgCO3 with produce a tertiary CaMg(CO3)2 phase (dolomite) and the difference between the two phases would be very hard to distinguish in BSE mode

5) Why are you upset that the cheaper product is perfectly fine?

6) Too long of a post for MP

EDIT: 7) F*CK yes for science!

James Xu · · Flagstaff, Arizona · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 85

Oh shit, someone finally called FrictionLabs out... with science.

Not to mention to become an 'Ambassador' by them requires you to PAY them first:

"The cost to sign up to be an Ambassador is $40, which is a big discount compared to if you were to buy all that from us normally"

You only get 'benefits' when you have friends use your promo code. You get 5% of whatever purchase that person paid for when they use it, while the rest still goes to FL.

Which sounds like a pyramid scheme to me, but I could be wrong by definition.

I've used FL chalk myself (got a free bag at Forksfest) and never noticed a difference between it and chalk I've used in the past. I don't hate on it, but I just think it's silly when I hear people say they're 'sponsored' by FL when they literally paid to become an ambassador.

Who Dat · · Spinning Rock, MW · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 0

Great post. I read the label on a bag of their chalk a while back.. looked like BS, and definitely not worth the price.

Sounds like FrictionLabs has taken their marketing too far. At what point are their claims considered false advertising?

I've always liked CAMP chalk and lucky for me it tends to be the cheapest.

r m · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 0

Great post. I'll be sticking to my regular chalk...

matt c. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 10
James T wrote:1) Lance Armstrong is awesome 2) Good for you for taking the time 3) EDX is not quantitative enough with light elements like C and O, do XRD if you really care 4) A combination of CaCO3 and MgCO3 with produce a tertiary CaMg(CO3)2 phase (dolomite) and the difference between the two phases would be very hard to distinguish in BSE mode 5) Why are you upset that the cheaper product is perfectly fine? 6) Too long of a post for MP EDIT: 7) F*CK yes for science!
oh shit! He just XRDed your EDX!
Thanks for looking into this and nice right up! However, based solely on the information you presented, I don't see any evidence that FL are fabricating having higher purity. Did you didn't measure the purity of the FL chalk?
.Alex. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0

To be honest, FrictonLabs claims of better chalk have always been dubious, and I know few people who use it that believe it's better.

The thing is, they're just really good at marketing. I've had friends buy it simply to "try it out", "test the hype", etc. And that's sales. When your product is considered premium, even if it may not be, (cough Starbucks) people will gladly pay to be a part of the hype. We're all consumers, we all want the best shoes, the best harness, the best gear. It's only a logical step we'd want the best chalk. And the best chalk is the one you hear of most often.

Bravo, I say to whoever at FrictonLabs realized they had a great niche of middle-class consumerist climbers to jump into.

badmoonrising · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 80

Wouldn't it be easier to verify the ratio of magnesium to calcium with mass spectrometry? Assuming you make a calibration curve first, that would be a very accurate measurement, especially for the purposes of a ratio. Assuming the mass spec is hooked up to an LC, it would probably be easiest to dissolve a bit in some acid since neither of those salts are particularly soluble in water alone.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Yeah, I figured. Pretty much ignored this company because they always seemed full of shit. Never bothered reading the label, though...that's hilarious.

jackkelly00 · · new hampshire · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 50
TheDrak · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 0

Thank you for this write up!

I also know a bit about metal chemistry (PhD in coordination chemistry) and I found their statements to be laughable at best and reminiscent of a pyramid scheme.

You are on-point my friend!

Down with greasy snake-oil misinformation.

DA

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 234

I prefer friction labs chalk. Maybe it's placebo effect or maybe it really does work better for me.
My wife disagrees and thinks its no better than any other chalk.

I am not competent to analyze the science and don't really care.

The Ambassador program, if accurately described above, is bogus and deserves to be exposed as such.
I am not an ambassador!

I bought some food grade MgCO3. It was worthless, a horrible gritty texture that made my hands more slippery, not less. Perhaps there's an easy way to process it at home to make it useful, but not worth it to me.

Friction labs chalk seems overpriced, am hopeful the cost will come down with time. You can usually find a 20% off deal if you look.

Jordan Moore · · Berthoud, CO · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 5

I'm with Mark. I like FL chalk. The skin separates from the underside of my nails when I use normal chalk. Not just sometimes, like all the fucking time. So annoying/debilitating. Then I started using friction lab chalk and it stopped completely. Whether the science be more expensive or less expensive to produce it's much better for me so it's worth the cost.

Trevor Carr · · Blacksburg, VA · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 0

You can claim what you will with your scientific testing, but my experience with them has been nothing but positive. I've used the Metolius chalk you're referring to, and it did a pretty terrible job at keeping my hands dry. So did the Black Diamond and Petzl chalk. Since switching to FL, my hands do stay dryer for a longer period of time. Maybe their scientific claims are a bit exaggerated, but from my own personal experiences, it actually does work better. But hey, if cheaper stuff works for you, go right ahead and continue to use it, no one is stopping you.

Torren · · Newark, DE · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 0

This reminds me of the time I shot tequila into my GC/MS in grad school.

With respect to your methods I don't think EDX is the best (or cheapest) since you only sample a small area with your beam and do not get an average of the bulk sample. I.e. you are getting composition of a few particles at a time which may not be representative of the bulk chalk. If you were to sample many particles you would be spending a lot of microspopy time and wasting money. I also don't think XRD would be good either since you will only measure crystalline material. There is probably quite a bit of amorphous material in chalk so XRD could be misleading. I would probably use ICP since that is a bulk characterization method and is quite sensitive (ppm level).

Full disclosure: I have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering with an extensive materials characterization background. I use whatever chalk is cheapest!

Dylan B. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 613

Chalk is aid.

reboot · · . · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 50

I always found the verbiage of the FL claims to be a little silly, but I do like the chalk, no ifs or buts about it. Now, I have (very) dry skin, I usually look more for the texture provided by the thin chalk layer. IME, it's a significant cut above the next best chalk (Mammut, which I've always found to be very consistent). I (w/ a training partner) have found the most differences on wooden holds (one of the few A/B tests we've performed ). These include the 45 degree wooden slopers on the Beastmaker 2k & Metolius campus rungs (especially mounted upside down). I can't tell much difference on plastic holds, unless we get a bad batch of el cheapo chalk (branded by Metolius, Franklin, Bison), then I'd want to clean my chalk bag. Outside, the difference is very rock type dependent. It also doesn't do shit if there's already a thick layer chalk on a hold.

Yes, this is all very subjective, but that's all I care about. The rest of you can do whatever you want.

christoph benells · · tahoma · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 55

they got my e-mail address somehow (i have never visited there site or clicked on their FB spam) and are constantly sending me e-mails.

FWIW, I blame instagram for everything happening in climbing right now,

how long is it going to take before these insta people realize there is no money in climbing, no fame, and living in a car is not cool.

Jay Bone 1 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2014 · Points: 68

This post is proof once again that being a smart person doesn't automatically mean you make smart decisions.

Reminds me of that story of a girl who was celebrating graduating college in Vegas with a night of ecstasy then proceeded to jump off the balcony to her demise...

I like how you admit you are biased right away, that makes your findings even more plausible..

Cris D. · · Hoboken, NJ · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 45
Dylan B. wrote:Chalk is aid.
best comment in this thread...ha!
DaveBaker · · Durham, NC · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 8

The multiple of anecdote is anecdata, right?

In the gym, I noticed a very real and significant improvement when I switched to Friction Labs chalk. It really is night and day, and I don't use anything else any more. However, their packaging isn't so great and doesn't stay sealed/closed, so I decant mine into an old Evolv screw-top bag.

Outdoors, I wipe my hands on my pants and start climbing.

Sure is expensive, though I find the claims are definitely true that you less than with other chalk. AAC always has a discount link if you don't/can't/won't find a better coupon elsewhere online.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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