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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

Written by Liz Thompson

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, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.


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