Toxic Chemical Glossary:
What is Petrolatum: Chemical Free Living

What is petrolatum?

Petrolatum is a petroleum-based product that exists in a semisolid state. It is used as a hair and skin-conditioning and moisturizing agent in personal care products [1]. It forms a a water-repellant barrier against the evaporation of the skin’s moisture. Petrolatum is odorless and colorless, and it has an inherently long shelf life. These qualities make petrolatum a popular ingredient in skincare products and cosmetics.

What products is petrolatum in?

Petrolatum can be found in personal care products including products for baby care such as hair conditioners or skin conditioners, diaper creams, lip products, sunscreens, and moisturizers [1] [2] [3].

How to tell if a product has petrolatum

Petrolatum could be listed under a number of different names on product labels including: mineral grease, mineral jelly, yellow petrolatum, petrolatum white, petrolatum amber, or petrolatum jelly [1].

Risks associated with petrolatum

Petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [3]. Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs is associated with cancer.  The European Union classifies petrolatum as a carcinogen and restricts its use in cosmetics to only when the full refining history is known, and it can be proven non-carcinogenic.  Petrolatum is considered a high human health priority to Canadian authorities [1].  Health issues associated with petrolatum include:

  • Organ system toxicity [1]
  • Cancer [3]

How to avoid petrolatum

Read product labels and avoid products that contain mineral grease, mineral jelly, yellow petrolatum, petrolatum white, petrolatum amber, or petrolatum jelly [1]. Rather, choose natural products with toxic chemical free ingredients. For personal care products, do your own research on a product’s ingredients by using a resource such as the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep product database.

References:

[1] EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (2007-2016). Petrolatum. Available online: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704786/PETROLATUM/ December 8, 2016.

[2] Saferchemicals.org (2016). Available online: http://saferchemicals.org/stories/paige-goldberg-tolmach-mom-and-entrepreneur/ December 8, 2016.

[3] Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2016). Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly. Available online: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/petrolatum/ December 8, 2016.

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