Petroleum derivatives in the context of cosmetics do not have the best associations. The black PR that accompanies them for some time meant that when we hear about them, we often think of something harmful, dangerous, toxic, and even carcinogenic. However, should you really be afraid of these ingredients and try to avoid them?

What are petroleum substances?

Petroleum derivatives are most often understood as substances derived from the use and processing of crude oil. During the complex process of mining and refining, various chemicals are obtained, used in various industries, with various properties. Throwing them into one bag is a big simplification. It’s like comparing fuel from a gas station with petroleum jelly. Undoubtedly, it is not indifferent which of them we choose.

The most commonly used petroleum-derived substances in the cosmetics industry: paraffin (Paraffin), liquid paraffin / mineral oil (Paraffinum liquidum / Mineral Oil), petrolatum (Petrolatum), isoparaffin (Isoparaffin) and microcrystalline wax (Cera Microcristallina). Petroleum substances that can be found in cosmetics are also ozokerite (Ozokerite) – a fossil wax and ceresin (Ceresin) – a product of ozokerite refining.

Why are petroleum derivatives used in the production of cosmetics?

The ingredients in question play a specific role in cosmetics. They can be a base component or a solvent for other hydrophobic substances, give cosmetic products the desired consistency and prevent the product from delamination (emulsion stabilizer function). When it comes to their cosmetic properties, they are classified as greasy emollients. They create an occlusive layer on the skin surface, which is a protective barrier and prevents excessive evaporation of water from the epidermis. As a result, the skin is better moisturized, softened and smoothed. These ingredients also support regenerative processes.
Are petroleum substances used in cosmetics harmful?

There are various myths in the media about oil derivatives. They are demonized and presented as toxic, harmful to the skin, and even penetrating the bloodstream and carcinogenic. Therefore, it is commonly believed that they should be absolutely avoided. Meanwhile, these are substances of very high chemical purity, purified from carcinogenic and mutagenic ingredients during the production process. Before they are approved for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or medicinal products, they must undergo quality control and meet legal requirements, much higher than those for technical use, e.g. in heavy industry. In addition, it is worth noting that due to the size of the molecules, these ingredients are not able to penetrate our body. Unless by food, but that’s a topic for another article. When applied to the skin, they remain on its surface.

The chemical purity of petroleum substances has its pros and cons. Although vegetable oils contain numerous nutrients and are biologically active, they can cause allergies or irritation for the same reason. Therefore, cosmetics and medicinal products intended for sensitive, atopic, pathologically altered and even wounded skin are based on vaseline and paraffin that are neutral to the skin, which will not provide nourishing effect, but are in many respects safer.

Often, the petroleum derivative is attributed a comedogenic effect, i.e. causing the formation of blackheads. This is not entirely true. Most reliable sources indicate that these substances have no comedogenic potential when used as an ingredient in the finished product. Only in the case of petroleum jelly you can find information that when applied to the skin in its pure form, it may promote the formation of blackheads. Mention is also made of the possibility of high melting point substances accumulating in the mouths of the hair follicles and used in large amounts. In general, the particles of the substances in question are large, even too large, to clog the pores or penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, however, the film left by them creates anaerobic conditions, favouring the growth of bacteria. This can actually exacerbate inflammation.

When should you use cosmetics containing petroleum derivatives and when should you avoid them?

Cosmetics based on petroleum derivatives should not be afraid, but you must remember about their properties and use with caution. It is also worth being aware that the extraction and transport of crude oil has a negative impact on the natural environment. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned petroleum substances are perfect for many drugs used in dermatological diseases, cosmetics for atopic, dry and allergy-prone skin, for protecting wounds and scars, in hand and foot creams or lip balms, as well as in products for children. However, it is better to avoid using cosmetics based on this type of ingredients on the face in the case of active acne, so as not to exacerbate the lesions. In addition, petroleum jelly, paraffin and other petroleum derivatives are greasy to the touch, they also make the skin glow, so due to these properties they are not ingredients that people with oily and combination skin will like.

In conclusion, petroleum derivatives are safe substances and should not be feared from a health point of view. Their use in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products is in many cases justified, but it should be remembered that these ingredients will not work for everyone. The key is to be aware of your skin’s needs.

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AUTHOR: Ewelina Nowobilska