I learned to use many skin and personal care products throughout my life. From a young age, I learned very basically what they were for and how to use them. When I picked products out for myself I would normally let the front label tell me what it was and what was special about it that made it better than the others. I rarely bothered to read the ingredients on the back – they covered that on the front, right? Like many others, I always assumed the products in the store were completely safe to use.
If there was anything harmful in those products, they wouldn’t be allowed to be sold in the stores, right?
Wrong! For the sake of cosmetic appeal, longer shelf life and just using the cheapest ingredients possible to increase profits, quality and safety get compromised. There are plenty of ingredients which could be talked about in with this topic. The one I’m going to cover today is petroleum because of not only it’s negative effects of most forms of it, but it wide spread use in so many of the products we use.
Using petroleum (mineral oil) on your skin? Per Campaign for Safe Cosmetics here is the reason for concern and what to look for on the label.
Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, derived from petroleum, is often used in personal care products as a moisturizing agent. When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, petrolatum is often not fully refined in the US, which means it can be contaminated with toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
FOUND IN: Lotions, Cosmetics
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON THE LABEL: Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly, Paraffin Oil, Mineral Oil and White Petrolatum (refined and safe for use).
WHAT IS PETROLATUM: Petrolatum is a byproduct of petroleum refining. With a melting point close to body temperature, petrolatum softens upon application and forms a water-repellant film around the applied area, creating an effective barrier against the evaporation of the skin’s natural moisture and foreign particles or microorganisms that may cause infection. Petrolatum is odorless and colorless, and it has an inherently long shelf life. These qualities make petrolatum a popular ingredient in skincare products and cosmetics.
When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, with an incomplete refining history, petrolatum could potentially be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs are byproducts of organic material combustion, commonly stored in fats upon exposure due to its lipophilic properties. There is no way to confirm proper refinement unless a complete refining history is provided.
HEALTH CONCERN: Cancer. The primary concern with petrolatum is the potential contamination with PAHs. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) considers PAHs as a class to contain reasonably anticipated carcinogens; the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists 14 PAHs as probable or possible carcinogens and one PAH as a known carcinogen. A study on Long Island, NY, found that those women with high levels of PAH-DNA adducts had a 50 percent greater risk of breast cancer. The formation of PAH-DNA adducts, an indicator of PAH exposure, is linked to cancer development. 
VULNERABLE POPULATIONS: All populations
REGULATIONS: The EU mandates that for cosmetic use, the full refining history of the petrolatum must be known and proven to be non-carcinogenic. The US sets no requirements on refinement and the PAH content in the petrolatum used in personal care products.
HOW TO AVOID: Avoid products with petrolatum, unless the company clearly indicates petrolatum is fully refined as white petrolatum (on the label or their company website).
There article reference of “what to look for on the label” seems to be just the start. “The beauty industry is absolutely littered with petroleum products” per the Cocoon Apothecary Blog in this insightful article.
The Environmental Working Group has found that an alarming 22% of all products contain unsafe levels of 1,4-dioxane.
I have compiled a list of what to look for in labels to determine whether an ingredient is petroleum-based.
- Paraffin Wax
- Mineral Oil
- Anything with PEG(polyethylene glycol)
Anything ending in ‘eth’indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth
Anything with DEA(diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine)
Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’– butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol
Ethanol and word with ‘ethyl’ – ethylalcohol, ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid), ethylhexylglycerin
Any word with“propyl” – isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine
Methanol and any word with‘methyl’ – methyl alcohol, methylparaben, methylcellulose
Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum
I don’t see myself as a fanatic, fighting the good fight against the use of petroleum. When it comes to using mineral oil or other petroleum based products for household uses or to power my vehicle I accept this as acceptable part life for now. As for using it on my body, face or hair I personally feel much more comfortable seeking out natural based products which don’t include any ingredients derived from petroleum. This way I don’t have to wait for further studies to be revealed. I stay close to what nature provides and eliminate any concerns.
I hope this helped. The content and products available on this site are continuously evolving. Feel free to explore and come back often. Like and share us on FaceBook as well. Your appreciated. Peace be your journey.