What is petroleum?
Crude oil, sometimes called petroleum, is a fossil fuel that was produced deep in the earth through a process that took millions of years to complete.
Millions of years later, almost all of us come into contact with a derivative of petroleum every day. Through a process called fractional distillation, petroleum refineries break petroleum into many of its smaller components. Each of these smaller components is made up of molecules called hydrocarbons.
The world is full of products that come from petroleum. For example, gasoline, styrofoam, lubricating oils, and many other items are all derivatives of this raw material. How are petroleum and cosmetics related? The two seemingly unrelated items, petroleum and cosmetics, are indeed closely related in our modern world.
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.
One popular chemical additive that carries moisture in cosmetics is propylene glycol. It is also a derivative of petroleum. Some products that list propylene glycol as an ingredient include:
- laundry detergent
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? Modern research at 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. Today, 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 are looking closely at a family of preservatives called parabens. Their research has recently linked parabens to the possibility that male babies will have lower sperm counts. These preservatives are derived from petroleum and help to maintain the freshness and integrity of the product. 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? In most cases, there is no conclusive answer to this question. However, the research mentioned strongly suggests that the synthetic ingredients may have a significant impact on our bodies.
In many cases, the long-term effects of many of the chemical additives in our 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?
Luckily, 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. The Organic Make-up Company is one such company that is leading the way in producing high-quality, organically manufactured cosmetics! 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.
All you have to do is 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.
- Fairley, Josephine. Organic beauty: look and feel gorgeous the natural way. Dorling Kindersley : London, 2001.
- http://www.hans.org/web_articles/h07drugschemicals/h0799whatisreallyinyourhbprods.aspl, accessed Oct. 3, 2004.