Petrochemicals - What are they and how can I spot them?

Petrochemicals have many undercover names.

Petrochemicals, petroleum... this one can go under many names (see below!). It is actually an “occlusive”, meaning it creates a barrier and doesn’t allow moisture into the skin. Over time it actually trains the body NOT to create its own moisture, so you become “addicted” to using moisturizing products. (You know what I mean—once you start using that chapstick you HAVE to keep using it, or that lotion...) -companies know this.

Examples of Petrochemicals

Two products that I IMMEDIATELY think of are the J&J Baby Oil - ingredient #1 is Mineral Oil. Oh, your skin LOOKS moisturized... but no. That's just petroleum coating the surface layer, no actual moisturizing is happening there.  In my in-person classes, I would put a saltine cracker in a cup with mineral oil and one in a cup with water.  3 minutes later, the saltine in the water is a mushy mess.  The saltine in the mineral oil would still SNAP when I broke it in half.  No moisture gets into your skin when you put mineral oil on top of it.  

And the second is Carmex - remember that one??? I feel like errrrrrrrrybody was straight-up addicted to Carmex in college.

Both products - and petrochemicals in general - make you THINK you're moisturizing when really you may as well be coating your skin with Saran Wrap and yelling "BREATHE!!!!" at it. Um, not working.

But even worse... A huge health concern with petroleum products is that they can generate 1,4-dioxane. This is a substance that is known to cause cancer and is also a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant, and a respiratory toxicant not to mention a leading groundwater contaminant. The Environmental Working Group has found that an alarming 22% of all products contain unsafe levels of 1,4-dioxane.
Other names for Petrichemicals

Because this can be listed under MANY different ingredient names, here's a list of what to look for in labels to determine whether an ingredient is petroleum-based.

Cosmetic Petrochemicals

+ Paraffin Wax

+ Mineral Oil

+ toluene

+ Benzene

+ Phenoxyethanol

+ Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol)

+ Anything ending in ‘eth’ indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth

+ Anything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine)

+ Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’ – butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol

+ Ethanol and word with ‘ethyl’ – ethyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid), ethylhexylglycerin

+ Any word with “propyl” – isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine

+ Methanol and any word with ‘methyl’ – methyl alcohol, methylparaben, methylcellulose

+ Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum - we'll deal with "Fragrance" as one of our toxic chemicals in a future blog post because of how downright nasty this one is. 

I’ll continue my series in a little bit.  Be on the lookout for a post about Parabens.

Leave a comment