Petroleum on a girl's faceMany of us who are trying to reduce our carbon footprint have found ways to reduce our use of gasoline, plastic bags, and other petroleum-based products. But did you know that most, if not all, of your standard skincare and cosmetic products contain petrochemicals? Moreover, petroleum is not only unhealthy for the environment; it poses a risk for your skin too.

Petroleum and its Role in Skincare

Petroleum jelly, also known as Petroleum or mineral oil, is a mixture of hydrocarbons that is derived from the residue left behind by raw crude oil. The colorless, oily gel starts out as a waxy black residue. This substance is then put through a vacuum distillation process followed by filtration through animal charcoal (charred animal bones.) Sounds healthy, right?

Not really. The residue of crude oil probably doesn’t sound like something you’d want to slather all over your face, so why is it found in so many skincare products? The truth is, mineral oil and similar petrochemicals are relatively inexpensive when compared to plant-based essential oils. Using Petroleum as a base also ensures a long shelf-life, which can save cosmetic companies and their distributors a great deal of expense.

Helpful and Harmful Qualities

Petroleum was originally touted as a skin moisturizer that could facilitate the healing of minor burns and scrapes. This is because the product forms an effective seal on the skin, preventing the escape of moisture. While it does work to keep moisture from leaving the skin, it also prevents the natural intake of oxygen and the discharge of toxins.

One example of this phenomenon was illustrated in a study published in Pediatrics that found an increase in the development of systemic candidiasis in low-birth-weight infants that were treated with Petroleum. The sticky oils provided a warm, moist place for fungi to grow.

Due to its inhibition of epidermal respiration, Petroleum also prevents the proper release of water and heat through the skin, impeding the body’s natural temperature regulators. Even worse, the National Toxicology Program has classified mineral oil as a known carcinogen due to the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

How to Avoid Harmful Products

While it sounds simple to look for products that are labeled as petroleum-free, it may not be so easy. Petrochemicals go by many names. Here is a list of petrochemicals that are best avoided:

  • Petroleum
  • Paraffin
  • Mineral Oil
  • Acetone
  • Ultraol
  • Agoral
  • Kondremul
  • Plain Milkinol
  • Ceresin
  • Naptha
  • Neo-Cultol
  • Nujol
  • Petrogalar Plain
  • Toluene
  • Benzene
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Butanol and words with ‘butyl’ such as butyl alcohol or butylparaben
  • Ethanol and words with ‘ethyl’ such as ethyl alcohol or ethylene glycol
  • Ingredients with “propyl” such as isopropyl alcohol or propylene glycol
  • Methanol and other words with ‘methyl‘ such as methyl alcohol or methylparaben.
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