Natural Beauty PetroleumJellybyShutterstock

Published on November 4th, 2011 | by Liz Thompson

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Petroleum: A Mainstream Ingredient to be Avoided

It is the time of year when skin becomes dry, hands crack and skin conditions like dry eczema worsen.  And what is the longest and most widely used remedy for these ailments?  That’s right…Vaseline, aka petroleum jelly.  Most physicians prescribe this product to treat winter-time skin conditions, and even recommend using it on our babies and children.  So it has to be safe, right?  Wrong.

What is petroleum/petrolatum?

Petroleum, or petrolatum, is derived from hydrocarbon.  Its origins are natural-based (coming from the earth) but production often causes petroleum to become contaminated with toxic impurities.  These impurities, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are cancer-causing chemicals found in crude oil and its by-products.

But because petroleum is relatively cheap and easy to produce many skincare manufacturers opt for use of this ingredient in their products.  It may be cheap right now, but because it comes from crude oil, petroleum is not a renewable resource.

Why avoid petroleum/petrolatum?

Though there is no definitive link between petroleum and cancer in humans the European Union has banned all but the purest grade of petroleum for use in cosmetics.  The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Datatbase (EWG) rates petroleum a 7 (High Hazard) on its hazard ranking scale, listing the ingredient as a possible human carcinogen.

Petroleum and mineral oil (a petroleum-derived oil) are added to many conventional lotions and creams for moisturizing and protection.  Because of their thick, rich consistency these ingredients may seem like a good choice.   But they actual sit on the skin’s surface.  Skin cannot breathe or properly eliminate toxins.  This also blocks pores and eventually causes breakouts.  Products that moisturize while allowing skin to breathe are more effective.

Which products contain petroleum/petrolatum?

Petroleum is found in a wide variety of skincare, baby products, hair care, body care, makeup and skin treatments such as those marketed for eczema.  A study by EWG found petroleum in one of every 14 cosmetic products on the market, 40 percent in baby lotions and oils.

To check a product for this ingredient look for petrolatum, petroleum jelly or mineral oil in the ingredient listing.  Choosing products made with pure plant oils and butters are not only better for skin, but for your overall health and that of our planet.

Stay tuned in coming weeks as our series on Harmful Ingredients to Avoid continues.  If you have further questions on petroleum, or any other cosmetic ingredient, please leave a comment below.

Image:  Petroleum jelly photo via Shutterstock


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About the Author

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty Source.com, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.



4 Responses to Petroleum: A Mainstream Ingredient to be Avoided

  1. Mary says:

    I used to love Vaseline to take off my eye makeup, but I got rid of the stuff once I researched it. Have you tried any of those petroleum alternatives?

    • Liz Thompson says:

      Hi Mary! My all time fave eye makeup remover is olive oil. Yep, the stuff right in your kitchen. I actually use this as a winter time facial cleanser too, when my skin is extra dry. Another product I came across recently that I cannot wait to try out is RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream http://www.spiritbeautylounge.com/rms-beauty-raw-coconut-cream.html . Looks like it would work great on dry/cracked hands, dry patches on face and body, and possibly even eczema. I will let you know what I find out :)

  2. Thank goodness there is more people talking about the really bad chemicals manufacturers include in their formulations! Baby oil is 100% mineral oil and mothers are encouraged to apply this terrible stuff to baby’s delicate skin.
    At http://www.nochemicalcosmetics.com there are free reports on how to recognise and avoid the chemicals and contaminants in the products you use.

  3. Avoiding petroleum is very good advice, indeed!

    Unfortunately petroleum bases are very prevalent, so it’s best to look for something that has a base of something natural, like bees wax.

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