Toxic Timeout: 5 Petrochemicals in Beauty to Know + Avoid

Do a little digging and you’ll be shocked by how little regulation there is around ingredients in mainstream beauty. 

As we can’t always rely on labels to spell out the whole truth, we need to be our own advocates – and Amy Ziff of MADE SAFE is here to guide the way. Our Toxic Timeout series was created to put a spotlight on the synthetic, health-harming chemicals creeping throughout our daily lives — and to empower you with awareness.

Below we’re breaking down five major chemicals commonly found in beauty products. Take note, tell your friends and shop a little greener…

What Are Petrochemicals?

Petrochemicals are chemicals derived from petroleum. Nearly all beauty products contain them. Although hard for some to imagine, almost all synthetic (man-made) chemicals are petrochemicals, unless they’re derived from an alternative such as coconuts or vegetables. And even those “naturally-derived” ingredients can still have petrochemical components depending on the processes used to derive them.

The most well-known petrochemical ingredient is petrolatum, commonly used in beauty products like lotions as a moisturizing agent.

Petrochemical ingredients are used in abundance because they’re relatively cheap to manufacture and can be used for a range of functions: as preservatives, extending the shelf life of products; as filler to make a product go further; to give a certain texture; or to disperse fragrance ingredients.

What’s the Concern?

It’s important to note that not all petrochemicals are linked to human health problems. The problem often comes with refining: When petrochemicals aren’t properly refined, they can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a class of chemicals linked to cancer[1]. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if a chemical has been properly refined unless the manufacturer requests its full refinement history, so it’s virtually impossible for consumers to know if their petrochemical products are clean or contaminated.

5 Common Petrochemicals to Know

Some common petrochemicals linked to health problems that aren’t permitted in MADE SAFE certified products:

Mineral oil | Eye shadow, blush, concealer, lip gloss, lipstick, moisturizer, conditioner. Untreated and mildly treated mineral oil is linked to cancer[2].

Benzene | Conditioner and styling cream. Linked to cancer.

Toluene | Nail polish, hair dyes. Exposure to pregnant women is linked to developmental harm in fetuses[3].

Parabens | Cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotions. Endocrine disruptors linked to cancer[4].

Phthalates | Found in fragrance.

How to Avoid Them


Because petrochemicals are so ubiquitous and it’s difficult for the average shopper to know what’s safe and what’s not, here are a few simple practices for avoiding harmful ones:

+ Look for moisturizing products made with botanical oils like almond, avocado, argan, rosehip, or other oils derived from fruits, vegetables and herbs. We like natural oil-based moisturizers from True Botanicals, S.W. Basics, Kosmatology and Annmarie Skin Care.

+ Opt for lotions made with coconut oil or shea butter like lotions and creams from Alaffia.

+ Try a whole different take on beauty products with a probiotic personal care routine like Mother Dirt’s AO+ Mist, which over time softens skin by restoring the natural balance of the skin’s microbiome.

+ Look for the MADE SAFE seal on beauty products. We examine each ingredient individually to ensure it’s not linked to human-health or ecosystem harm.

+ And, as always with beauty products, look for products made with fewer ingredients and ones that you recognize.

[1] http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/roc13/#sthash.5fPnoADy.dpuf
[2] http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/known-carcinogens/
[3] http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/toluene/
[4] http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/parabens/

The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program. 

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