#2–Harmful Chemicals in Skin Care Products: Petrolatum

Apr 2nd, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: For Senior Women

The mission continues!!  Here’s the second in my series about potentially harmful chemicals in skin care products.  Petrolatum is mineral oil and petroleum distillates (the results of physically separating chemicals based on their properties; i.e., petroleum distillates are distinct chemicals that have been separated from the original petroleum). 

So what’s the concern about putting some chemicals from oil (the black stuff that comes out of oil rigs in the ground or ocean) on our skin?  First, remember skin is the largest organ we have in our bodies.  What we put on our skin gets absorbed into the skin and eventually into the blood stream where it travels from head to toe.

Second, petroleum is used in skin care products to lock moisture in the skin, usually used in moisturizers.  It is also used in hair care products to make your hair shine.  (By the way, hair also absorbes chemicals that we put on it, travels through the roots and eventually into the blood stream.)

Third, and this is the one that carries the big whammy… petroleum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  PAHs are the most widely known organic polutants we can identify.  In addition, studies suggest that putting products that contain PAH on your skin over extended periods of time is associated with cancer.  This is what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says about PAHs:

“How likely are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to cause cancer?

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that some PAHs may reasonably be expected to be carcinogens.

Some people who have breathed or touched mixtures of PAHs and other chemicals for long periods of time have developed cancer. Some PAHs have caused cancer in laboratory animals when they breathed air containing them (lung cancer), ingested them in food (stomach cancer), or had them applied to their skin (skin cancer).”  (www.cdc.gov)

In addition, the European Union classifies petrolatum a carcinogen; its use in both the EU and the US is regulated.

The problem, however, is this:  What happens when the average adult in the US and the EU use an average of 10 skin care products a day, with a total of 126 chemicals, and each of these products contains PAHs in one form or another?  We’ve just blown the attempts of regulators to restrict ingestion of PAH out the window.

Minor problems that can be caused by PAH include skin irritation and allergies.  The major problem is the big “C”.  It’s just not worth the risk when excellent, botanically-based skin care products are available at the same (or lower) cost as those that contain PAH.

These are some of the forms of PAH that can be found in skin care products:

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