How to recognise petroleum by-products contained in personal care products?

Is there petroleum or petroleum by-products in personal care products?

For over 100 years products derived from petroleum have been used in personal care products.

You find petroleum and petroleum by-products in everything from shampoos and conditioners to anti-aging creams, body lotions, mascaras, perfumes, lipsticks, lip balms, foundations, hair relaxers, conditioners, eye shadows, and nail polishes.

Its emollient and occlusive properties soothe, smooth, and create a waterproof barrier that seals the moisture into the skin protecting it from external agents that would damage your skin.  It makes your hair shine and soothes cuticles and nails. The barrier created completely seals the skin, which means that it does not let your skin breathe and locks impurities into your skin. This usually leads to skin breakouts and skin suffocation.

Is petroleum jelly dangerous for your health?

Petroleum jelly or petrolatum is the extra refined by-product of petroleum. Its low price and high quantity make it a go-to ingredient in cosmetics. Many studies demonstrated that properly refined and used in a pure form of petroleum jelly was safe. This is now being discussed as independent research has established a link between skin issues or the risk of cancer and the presence of petrochemical ingredients in cosmetic products and food.

An incomplete refining process could contaminate the petrolatum with Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). There is no way to confirm proper refinement unless a complete refining history is provided.

According to, “The National Toxicology Program (NTP) considers PAHs as a class to contain reasonably anticipated carcinogens; the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists 14 PAHs as probable or possible carcinogens and one PAH as a known carcinogen. A study on Long Island, NY, found that those women with high levels of PAH-DNA adducts had a 50 percent greater risk of breast cancer. The formation of PAH-DNA adducts, an indicator of PAH exposure, is linked to cancer development.”

In addition to its comedogenic effect on the skin, the potential risk for long-term health issues could impact your decision as a consumer as to whether or not your want to buy products containing ingredients derived from petroleum.  

How can I recognize petroleum by-products in a cosmetic product?

The international labelling conventions require ingredients to be mentioned with their Latin forms on labels. This makes it very hard to understand what really is in the product and to research on it. Nowadays, consumers want to know what is in the products they consume and/or ingest.

To identify ingredients derived from petroleum, you will look for:

  • Mineral oils (oil derived from petroleum)
  • Paraffin wax or Paraffin oil
  • Petrolatum, white petrolatum (refined form of Petrolatum)
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Parabens’ family such as propylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, benzylparaben
  • Words with “ethyl” such as PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, ethyl alcohol, ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride, ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid (EDTA), ethylene glycol
  • Alcohol, isopropyl (SD-40)
  • Toluene may appear on ingredients as phenylmethane, methylbenzene or toluol
  • Laureth family(sodium lauryl sulfate, any ingredients with laureth or lauryl in the name) Words ending in "eth" (e.g., ceteareth, laureth, myreth, oleth)
  • Butanol and words with "butyl" such as butylene glycol and butyl alcohol
  • Fragrances or parfum the synthetic ones almost all contain petroleum derived chemicals
  • ParaPhenoxyethanol
  • Benzene
  • Diethanolamine
  • Ethanolamine
  • Methanol and words with “methyl” such as methyl alcohol, methylparaben and methylcellulose
  • Propyl containing substances such as isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, cocamidopropyl betaine.

The “Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS)” is responsible for managing industrial chemicals (cosmetics) and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) regulates product safety and cosmetic labelling standards.

 An approved label does not mean it is entirely safe for your health and the one of your loved ones. Chemicals are everywhere even in natural products in their natural form. The concentration and frequency of use can create long-term damage to your health. Using heavily transformed or petroleum-based products disrupts your body and endocrine system.

In a world where marketing, false claims, and profit margin lead the way, it is important to educate ourselves as consumers. We need to understand what is in the products we want to buy so that we can make a conscious purchasing choice.

Resources to educate ourselves:

Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme:

Are your cosmetics killing you?

20 of the most common petrochemical skincare Ingredients to avoid:

Know your environment protect your health – The Environmental Working Group (EWG):

5 reasons to avoid petroleum and minerals oil in your skincare:

How petroleum in cosmetics ruins your skin and your health: