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Chemicals to avoid - Petrolatum and Petroleum Derivatives

Fossil Fuels do not belong in personal care.

Primary function – Petrolatum and its derivatives form a thick layer on skin to reduce moisture loss

PetrolatumDid you know that Mineral oil was first discovered as a build up in oil rig machinery way back in 1859?! Gross!  Petrolatum or Mineral oil (aka Petroleum jelly) is added to skincare as a cheap way to create a moisture locking barrier on skin. Your skin regulates it's moisture content as you go about your day. Moisturized skin looks soft and supple. Youthful skin is better at regulating moisture and holding more moisture in. With age, skin changes, causing more moisture to evaporate leading to dry skin issues. Environmental factors like heat, cold and loss of humidity can also cause moisture loss from your skin leading to itchiness, flaking, dryness etc. Then there are certain skin conditions like Rosacea that exacerbate moisture loss. 

All moisturizers have ingredients that form a barrier and prevent moisture loss. Petroleum is a really unsavory ingredient that does exactly that, found in so many creams and even expensive $200+ creams sometimes. In haircare, it's used in texturizers like pomade or even in leave-in products to add shine to hair. Here are two (2) reasons this ingredient just doesn't belong in personal care

1. Petrolatum is contaminated with Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals found naturally in fossil fuels. Petrolatum or Mineral oil is often contaminated with it as the extraction process isn't always 100% pure. Studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of PAH exposure. The CDC, also points out health hazards of exposure to PAHs, the most concerning being mutations that can cause Cancer. For this reason, the EU has classified Petrolatum as a carcinogen.

Oil rig2. The Environmental and Climactic impact

Fossil fuels are not just a non-renewable form of energy. It's no secret anymore that extraction of fossil fuels is environmentally damaging. The extraction process contaminates the air with toxins, and pollutes the water. How many oil spills do we hear about that result in marine life being severely hurt and fisherman complaining of contaminated catch? When fossil fuels are burned they release tons of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases that accelerate global warming.

Alternatives to Petrolatum exist. Many plant butters and oils perform a similar function and even more elegantly. Not only do these plant ingredients prevent moisture loss, they also supply skin with vitamins and nutrients. However, they so many companies still use Petrolatum as a cheap way to meet an end without consideration for customer health or bigger environmental impacts. Only educated consumers can change this cycle through the power of choice.

Quick Summary (Petrolatum)
Be on the lookout for:
Mineral Oil
Petroleum Jelly
What makes them controversial:
forms a barrier on skin to prevent moisture loss
Contaminated with PAHs that can cause cancer
Commonly found in:
moisturizers, balms, hair care

Find out about more chemicals that can be found in your skin care products