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How to Identify Petrochemicals in Your Cosmetics

Petroleum – love it or hate it? I’m guessing that most of you hate it. The sad fact is that as much as we resent this commodity, it is unavoidable unless you are living with wolves. The latest catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has put many of us over the edge in our disdain for it and yet we still have to get in our cars and go to work or heat our houses in the dead of winter. At this point, some things can’t be controlled but fortunately some things can.

The beauty industry is absolutely littered with petroleum products – from the ugly plastic packaging to the petrochemicals you unknowingly spread all over your body. 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.

I have compiled 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

The best way to take petroleum out of your bathroom is to avoid any products containing these chemicals and to choose products that use glass rather than plastic. Use soap or shampoo bars rather than body wash and shampoo in bottles. It may take a little extra effort on your part, but you are likely to have a far better experience in your bathroom with botanicals than icky oil.