Petrochemicals: An Overview

Petrochemicals are a group of ingredients used by the beauty industry that are derived from petroleum. The beauty industry relies on a variety of basic ingredients made from petrochemicals.

These ingredients are not just bad for us, but also for the environment. Firstly, these ingredients are energy intensive to produce. Secondly, their production contributes to the depletion of finite resources. However, because they are cheap to produce, and are easily available, they dominate the products on the supermarket shelves.

Look at detergents and surfactants (allows rinsing) as an example. Whether they are derived from petrochemicals or natural material they perform much the same function in the product.  Yet it is easier and cheaper for companies to use the former, without any concern for the health implications of the consumer’s continued exposure to these ingredients. Don’t be fooled by “greenwashing” either, where the addition of one natural ingredient assumes that the whole product made from natural ingredients.

ID-100218602In NYROrganic products, these types of functional ingredients are processed from natural plant material (as opposed to being derived from petrochemicals).  Petrochemical ingredients offer no real benefits to your skin and can even be toxic. Here is a list of common petrochemical ingredients that you might be exposing your skin and body to on a regular basis:

Isopropanol: A solvent and penetration enhancer, found in make-up, shampoo, moisturisers and nail polish. It is neurotoxic, skin drying/irritating and potentially liver toxic.

Methyl-, Propyl-, Butyl- and Ethyl-Paraben: The most widely used preservatives in the cosmetic industry. Parabens can cause allergic reactions and skin rashes and are easily absorbed into the body (because they are fat soluble). They have also been found, intact, within tumour biopsies. More on parabens in a forthcoming blog.

Paraffinum liquidum: Also known as mineral oil, this is a cheap, abundant ingredient found in face creams, make-up, body lotions and baby oils. It does not add moisture or nourish the skin. Instead it can interfere with the body’s own natural moisturizing mechanism (blocking the skin), which over time can lead to dryness and chapping.

Petrolatum: Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties and can cause similar problems to Paraffinum liquidum. Found in lipsticks and balms, hair care products, moisturizers, depilatories (hair removal creams) and deodorants. NYROrganic simply use nature’s oils, such as sunflower, brazil nut, beeswax, shea butter, to name a few. These natural oils are absorbed into the skin, actually moisturising and nourishing the skin, rather than just making the surface feel smooth.

Propylene glycol: Can be found in moisturisers, deodorants, make-up, depilatories and soaps. It can be derived from natural sources but is usually a synthetic petrochemical mix. It is added to keep the product moist and acts as a penetration enhancer – driving other ingredients deeper into the skin. It has been linked to allergic reactions, hives and eczema. Ingredients such as PEG (polyethylene glycol) or PPG (polypropylene glycol) are related synthetics.

Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate: Detergents commonly used in shampoos, body washes and toothpaste. Some labels list this ingredient as being derived “from coconuts”. However producing sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate requires the addition of petroleum-derived ingredients and the finished product is far removed from its vegetable origins. These detergents can cause eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and allergic reactions. They can also cause damage to oral tissue and be responsible for mouth ulcers. They are particularly worrying in toothpaste because of the risk of swallowing.

Fragrance or Parfum: Around 95% of the fragrances used in toiletries and cosmetics are petrochemically-based. Often the ingredient listing “fragrance” or “parfum” can be an umbrella heading for a whole list of undisclosed ingredients. Perfumes are neurotoxic and can cause headaches, mood swings, depression, dizziness and skin irritation. They are also very common triggers of asthma attacks.

References/Further reading:

The Dirty Dozen: 12 ingredients investigated by the David Suzuki Foundation

Petrochemical Beauty? No Thanks! NYR Natural News

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.




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