Petroleum and Cosmetics

Petroleum and Cosmetics: What are the health risks?

About petroleum…

Mineral oil and petroleum are the basic ingredients in many cosmetic products today. Both mineral oil and petroleum have the same origins in fossils fuels. Cosmetics such as foundations, cleansers, and moisturizers often contain mineral oil. By locking moisture against the skin, mineral oil sits on the skin’s surface and can potentially block pores. This may cause the appearance of pimples because the skin cannot properly ‘breathe’.

Fragrances in lotions, shampoos, and many other cosmetic products are composed of aromatic hydrocarbons. Perfumes and products containing fragrance can contain many hundreds of chemicals to produce a distinct scent. A significant number of these aromas are derived from petroleum.

A popular chemical additive that carries moisture in cosmetics is propylene glycol, a petroleum derivative. Some products that list propylene glycolas an ingredient include:

– anti-freeze

– laundry detergent

– paint

– shampoo

– conditioner

Past research links propylene glycol to serious health problems as liver and kidney damage as well as respiratory irritation or nausea if swallowed.

An antiseptic, isopropyl alcohol, kills bacteria on the skin. You can find it on the ingredient list of cleansers, toners and other cosmetic products. Unfortunately, this derivative of petroleum dries the skin and may cause miniature cracks in the skin that allow bacteria to enter, potentially causing irritations or pimples.

Do these petroleum-derived products affect your health?

Your skin covers your body and acts as a physical barrier to many of the pollutants in the atmosphere. When you use products on your skin such as cosmetics, lotions, and shampoos, the ingredients in these products come into direct contact with your body’s largest organ; your skin. You may ask yourself, where do the ingredients in the products go? The Herb Research Foundation found that the skin absorbs up to 60% of the chemicals in products that it comes into contact with directly into the bloodstream. Hormone therapy treatments and smoking cessation medications are often prescribed as patches that you apply directly to the skin. The medication passes through the skin and directly enters the bloodstream.

For pregnant women, the risk is not only for her body but also for the developing fetus. If the chemicals found in cosmetics readily enter the bloodstream when applied to the skin, then they will also reach the developing baby. Researchers at the Brunel University in England have been looking closely at preservatives called parabens.These preservatives are derived from petroleum and help to maintain the freshness and integrity of products. Currently, many manufacturers add parabens to cosmetics to allow a minimum of 3 years shelf life. Therefore, the parabens kill any bacteria that could potentially enter the product. If these chemical ingredients can kill the bacterial cells, what are they doing to your skin cells? The research strongly suggests that the synthetic ingredients may have a significant impact on our bodies.

The long-term effects of many chemical additives in cosmetics are not known. However other chemical additives are known carcinogens. These types of chemicals can cause cancer in humans. Such chemicals include some artificial colours in cosmetics. The effects of chemicals and other synthetic ingredients in cosmetics may lead to mild allergic reactions causing rashes and minor skin irritation to more significant problems such as lesions on the skin.

What are your alternatives for cosmetics?

There are alternatives to cosmetics filled with synthetically produced ingredients. Increasingly, cosmetic manufacturers are answering the public’s demand for alternatives to the chemically loaded beauty and grooming supplies. As a consumer, you have the ability to decrease the number of preservatives and chemical additives your skin comes into contact with and therefore, that may enter your body. To avoid using the synthetically derived fragrances, look for products containing essential oils. These are pure oils derived from flowers and other plants in nature.

Make the simple choice of purchasing cosmetic products with all-natural organic ingredients. Whether you continue using cosmetics that contain petroleum-based ingredients or not is a personal choice. What is the most important is to get the facts and to know that you have a choice when it comes to buying organic or synthetic cosmetic products.

Petroleum – based cosmetics and skin care products found to contain cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane

A study by the US based non-profit Environmental Working Group showed that many cosmetic products — including more than half of all baby soaps — contained a carcinogenic chemical. Internal studies in the cosmetics industry show that many of their products can be contaminated by a carcinogenic impurity called 1,4-dioxane, and the EWG’s independent study showed that 1,4-dioxane is fairly widespread among cosmetic products.

What you need to know:

The study found 22 % of all cosmetic and skin care products may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.

• It also found that 80 % of all cosmetic products may be contaminated with one or more carcinogenic impurities.

• In addition to 1,4-dioxane, six other major impurities are hydroquinone, ethylene dioxide, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, PAHs, and acrylamides.

• The EWG analysis found 1,4-dioxane in a wide variety of cosmetic products on the market, including almost all brands of hair relaxers and more than half of the baby soaps on the market. Contamination levels found were as follows:

97% – hair relaxers

82% – hair dyes and bleaching

66% – hair removers

57% – baby soap

45% – sunless tanning products

43% – body firming lotion

36% – hormonal creams

36% – facial moisturizers

35% – anti-aging products

34% – body lotion

33% – around-eye creams

The analysis assessed the ingredient lists of 15,000cosmeticsand other personal care products.

• Another impurity, hydroquinone, can potentially contaminate the products used daily by 94 % of women and 69 % of men, the EWG reported.

• To avoid 1,4-dioxane, read ingredient labels and avoid any of the 56 cosmetic ingredients that can contain the contaminant, including “sodium laureth sulfate” and ingredients that include the clauses “PEG,” “xynol,” “ceteareth,” and “oleth.”

• “One of every five adults is potentially exposed every day to all of the top seven carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients,” the EWG said

5 reasons why petroleum and mineral oil should be nowhere near your skin:


There are different grades of petroleum and mineral oil, with those used in cosmetic products being the “purest” and the most refined. Even still, we should be worried. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health reported:

“There is strong evidence that mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body, amounting to approximately 1 g per person.”

The researchers removed fat specimens from 142 women who were undergoing C-sections, and collected milk samples from them post-delivery. Scarily, they found that both the fat and the milk were contaminated with mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons. The authors concluded:

“The increase in MOSH [mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons] concentration in human fat tissue with age suggests an accumulation over time. Cosmetics might be a relevant source of the contamination.”

This stuff gets in our bodies just from using beauty products, and once there, it doesn’t leave. Certain components of mineral oil which are in many cosmetics are toxic, and when they get into the system they dont metabolize.


According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a 80 % of all beauty products may be contaminated with one or more of the two dozen recognized cosmetic impurities that are linked to cancer and other health concerns.

Petroleum and mineral oil-based products are no exception. The EWG report goes on to say:

“These trace contaminants in petroleum-based ingredients often readily penetrate the skin according to government and industry studies, and their presence in products is not restricted by government safety standards as they’re legal at any level.”

That’s a problem! The scariest of these contaminants is called 1,4 dioxane, an impurity found in 22 % of all petroleum-based cosmetics that is a likely human carcinogen as known animal carcinogen. How much you’re exposed to depends on the product you’re using: it’s in 82 % of hair dyes, 45 % of self-tanners and 36 % of face moisturizers, for starters.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology investigated whether mineral oil-based moisturizers might increase the rate at which tumours form. When mice that were at high risk of developing skin cancer received a topical application of 100 mg once a day, five days a week for 17 weeks, the rate of tumour formation significantly increased.


Petroleum and mineral oil are “occlusive” agents—meaning they seal off the skin from air, water or anything else getting in (or out). Wherever they’re applied, they form an invisible film on the surface that blocks the pores and the skin’s natural respiration process.

Anyone who is even slightly acne-prone will have alarm bells ringing over that statement. Blocked pores means trapped dirt and oil—leading to blackheads, pimples, whiteheads, same effect as if you covered yourself with tight plastic wrap.

The occlusive nature of petroleum and mineral oil also be create a warm, moist environment for yeast and fungus to grow. A study in Pediatrics found that extremely-low-birth-weight infants treated with petroleum jelly were more likely to develop systemic candidiasis.

Never put petroleum or mineral oil-based products on a sunburn. Because they form a seal, they’ll lock in the heat into your skin, making the burn worse, not better; it could lead to permanent scarring.


It’s well established that petroleum and mineral oil are occlusive, meaning they form a barrier on your skin, locking-in moisture. These agents also don’t allow moisture to be absorbed from the atmosphere, like other emollients can, nor will they allow absorption of the other beneficial ingredients that maybe in your skincare products.

Furthermore, there’s nothing in petroleum or mineral oil that’s going to nourish your skin from the inside out.

They’re cheap & highly profitable filler materials and that’s why they’re so ubiquitous at local beauty shops. Why settle for them when you could use something way better?

Instead of petroleum or mineral oil, much better for you to use natural coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E, shea butter, cocoa butter or sandalwood products. Just watch out for polyunsaturated oils, which oxidize in our bodies and are pro-aging. Non-petroleum jellies made with castor oil might not be the best choice either, as castor oil promotes inflammation by activating prostaglandin receptors.


Estrogen dominance is a common condition in which sufferers have a high ratio of estrogen, with little to no progesterone to balance its effects in the body. Chemicals that are present in our environment, called xenoestrogens, are one of the biggest culprits—and their action may be much more potent than the natural form.

Petroleum-based products are classified as xenoestrogens & studies in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry found that they can indeed produce estrogenic effects, containing compounds with possible endocrine-disrupting potential, including acting via hormone receptors.

Facts are these trace contaminants in petroleum-based ingredients readily penetrate the skin according to government and industry studies. However their presence in products is usually not restricted by government safety standards, meaning they are legal at any level. That is they readily penetrate your skin & that’s a problem!

The scariest of these possible contaminants called 1,4 dioxane is an impurity found in 22% of all petroleum-based cosmetics that is a possible human carcinogen and known animal carcinogen. How much you’re exposed to depends on the product you’re using: it’s in 82 percent of hair dyes, 45 percent of self-tanners and 36 percent of face moisturizers, for starters.

A fairly recent study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology investigated whether mineral oil-based moisturizers might increase the rate at which tumours form. When mice that were at high risk of developing skin cancer received a topical application of 100 mg once a day, five days a week for 17 weeks, the rate of tumour formation significantly increased.

We know that these products and their contaminants build up in the body, so it stands to reason that long-term exposure exacerbate hormonal imbalances. Question is are you still willing to take the risk of continuing to use petroleum and mineral oil skincare products simply because they’re cheap?


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