Open any medicine cabinet in America, and you’ll find a plethora of everyday beauty and skin care products derived from crude oil - the most obvious one being that little jar of petroleum jelly hiding in the back. But are the purported dangers of petroleum a real health concern?
FIRST THINGS FIRST...WHAT IS PETROLEUM?
Petroleum is a naturally occurring fossil fuel, aka mineral oil, used in the oil refining process. But you may be surprised to know it’s being used to fuel a lot more than vehicles - you’ll find petroleum in lip balms, facial moisturizers, body lotion, sunscreen, and baby oil.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF PETROLEUM?
With increased exposure to any chemical comes increased risk. And these days, it seems near impossible to get away from petroleum. Since it’s a known carcinogen, prolonged exposure can result in serious long-term consequences. According to the EWG, 80 percent 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, including petroleum and mineral oil-based products.
From minor health concerns like skin irritation and infection to much more serious concerns like nervous and circulatory system issues and cancer, petroleum is a substance we should think twice about putting it on (or in) our bodies. So if you’re considering reaching for the petroleum jelly in lieu of lubricant — don’t.
PETROLEUM EASILY PENETRATES INTO OUR SKIN — AND STAYS THERE
An EWG investigation into government and industry standards reported that the trace contaminants in petroleum-based ingredients often readily penetrate the skin. The scariest of these is something called 1,4 dioxane, an impurity linked to organ toxicity that you won’t find on any ingredient labels because it’s created during the manufacturing process. It’s most commonly found in products like hair dye and self tanner, so be sure to do your research before buying.
Petroleum and mineral oil are also occlusive agents, meaning they block out air, water, and anything else. Hence why people use petroleum jelly to “protect” their lips from wind or sunburn. But while it keeps anything from getting in, it also keeps anything from getting out — including toxins, dirt, oil, sweat, and other things that are important to eliminate from the body.
PETROLEUM CAN’T BE METABOLIZED
This is one of the biggest areas of concern when it comes to petroleum and its sinister sister, mineral oil. Once it’s in the system, it cannot be metabolized — meaning that your body can’t break it down. Like a bad house guest, it comes to stay and just won’t leave.
HOW CAN YOU AVOID PETROLEUM?
The more we learn about petroleum, the more that health-conscious folks want to avoid it at all costs. The first step to doing so is reading product labels carefully — and don’t just look for the word “petroleum.” There are other ingredient names that indicate petroleum is included in the formula, such as:
- Mineral oil
- Liquid paraffin
- Paraffin oil
The bottom line? The best course of action may be to avoid anything with petroleum or mineral oil in it, and to seek out products and manufacturers who actively choose to include healthy, not harmful, ingredients in their formulas.
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