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Mineral Oil Petroleum Derivative in Beauty Products

by Kit Anderson(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 84 - January 2003


While it has become a habit for most consumers to scan food labels for percentages of fat, sodium, and carbohydrates, most consumers have no idea what they put on their skin.

However smart the consumer, one might be surprised to learn that many manufacturers, most notably cosmetic manufacturers, do not even bother to affix ingredient labels on their products (a 2 oz size of a product does not have to list all the ingredients.) Of those that do, mineral oil is usually at the top of the list, even in those products that boast 'oil free' on their labels.

Relatively inexpensive and produced in large quantities, mineral oils are the primary oils used in cosmetics, from baby oil to face creams, lipstick and body lotions, to sunscreen and sun tan oils. Mineral oil is a mixture of aliphatic, naphthalenic and aromatic liquid hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. The composition of these oils varies depending on the crude oil source, the refining process and the additives present.

Adverse Effects of Petroleum Products

Products produced from petroleum, such as mineral oils, are classified as petrochemical pollutants. Petrochemical pollutants also known as xenohormones (xeno meaning foreign) can have a variety of negative hormonal effects in humans by blocking or opposing the action of oestrogen, resulting in functional loss of ovarian follicles in females and decreased progesterone production. The ultimate consequence of decreased progesterone production, is oestrogen dominance, PMS, endometriosis, miscarriages and many types of ovarian dysfunction. In addition, studies have shown widespread damage to the immune system. Infants of women who have been chronically exposed to xenohormones are particularly susceptible.[1]

Mineral oil coats the skin like plastic wrap, disrupting the skin's natural immune barrier and inhibiting its ability to breathe and absorb the 'natural moisture factor' (moisture and nutrition). Your skin is a vital organ that needs to work with your kidneys and liver to rid the body of toxins. Anything that interferes with this transfer system blocks the elimination of toxins. The skin needs to attract moisture to stave off infection and bacteria. Mineral oil pulls moisture away from the basal cells where cells are newly formed. This in turn slows down the cell renewal rate that breaks down the collagen and elastin and then begins to destroy the connective tissue. It also slows down skin function and normal cell development, resulting in premature ageing of the skin and many other health and skin disorders.

The sun is the number one cause of premature ageing and skin damage. Bad cosmetics and skin care products containing mineral oil and other harmful chemicals run a close second. Because mineral oil based skin care products leave a waxy film barrier, it is very common for cosmetic companies to use SD40 alcohols (isopropyl) in their toners to remove this film. Ever notice the strong smell of alcohol when you open a bottle of toner? These alcohols are also a petroleum derivative. Just one ounce of isopropyl alcohol ingested can be fatal.[2]

More information is constantly being uncovered about the dangers of sunscreen. Most sunblocks that claim to be 'waterproof' are currently under scrutiny as suspected carcinogens. Although the medical establishment still strongly supports the use of sunscreens, there is a growing consensus among progressive researchers that the use of sunscreens does not prevent skin cancer and, as a matter of fact, may promote skin cancers as well as colon and breast cancer.[3]

Lip balms, gloss, and lipsticks also contain a significant amount of mineral oil. These products actually produce the opposite effect of what they were intended to do. Acting as a moisture barrier, the mineral oils dehydrate the lips causing the consumer to have to constantly re-apply, which achieves the desired effect, but only temporarily.

Hazardous Ingredients and Legislation

It is a well-documented fact that cosmetics and toiletries contain numerous hazardous ingredients. According to the 1997 Environmental Contaminants Encyclopedia, in humans, mineral oil can cause a variety of untoward effects which can be life threatening. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are finding that toxins such as xenohormones can damage DNA and lead to breast cancer.[1]

Yet not a single cosmetic company warns consumers of the presence of harmful ingredients in its products - despite the fact that a number of common cosmetic ingredients are carcinogenic or carcinogenic precursors. "These ingredients pose risks of cancer, genetic damage and reproductive toxicity (including infertility) to unsuspecting consumers, and their infants and children", said University of Illinois, School of Public Health Emeritus, Professor Samuel Epstein MD.[4]

Senator Edward Kennedy also expressed strong concerns on these risks, at hearings on the 1997 FDA cosmetics reform bill. "Our message is that cosmetics can be dangerous to your health...The American people have a right to full and fair information about the actual and potential dangers of the products they use every day." Today, a coalition of public health and environmental organizations are requesting Senator Kennedy to consider legislation mandating labels for cosmetics and toiletries containing ingredients that pose serious, irreversible health risks.[5]

Despite these considerations, the FDA denies consumers their right-to-know by refusing to require label warnings on the risks of cosmetic ingredients. This failure violates the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which mandates that "each ingredient used in a cosmetic product...shall be adequately substantiated for safety prior to marketing", and which authorizes the FDA to recall and seize unsafe products. Nevertheless, the Agency merely requires a listing of the complex chemical names or their abbreviations.[6]

Last year the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that from 1997 to 1999, an estimated 6,400 children under five years of age visited an emergency room after ingesting household chemical products containing hydrocarbons. In addition, data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers for 1993 to 1999 revealed 11,115 potential aspiration exposures to cosmetic and household products containing hydrocarbons.

The most recent fatality of which the CPSC is aware occurred in May of this year after 16-month-old Jaiden Bryson of Bakersfield, Calif. aspirated a baby oil product.[7]

On October 16, 2001 the CPSC voted unanimously to require child-resistant packaging for some common household products and cosmetics containing hydrocarbons that can poison children. Examples of household products and cosmetics covered by the new packaging regulation include some baby oils, sunscreens, nail enamel dryers, hair oils, bath, body, and massage oils, makeup removers and other chemicals, and oil based solvents.

At the 2001 Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association annual meeting, board members, which included representatives from Nu Skin, Herbalife, Shaklee and various other well known brand names and private label cosmetic companies, distributors, manufacturers and suppliers, met to review various studies on topical chemicals suspected of being carcinogens. The members revealed that they were aware of the fact that some of the chemicals used in their products are harmful and carcinogenic, yet the only recommendation from the board was to require 'warning' labels on select products.[3]

A Selection of Beauty Products Containing Petroleum

Light & Lovely Cleansing Lotion: mineral oil, petrolatum, lanolin, lanolin alcohol, artificial fragrances, artificial colours;
Facial Cocktail Skin Freshener: SD40 alcohol, fragrance, artificial colours;
Royal Moisture Creme: mineral oil, fragrance, lanolin, artificial colours.
Cleanser Galatee: mineral oil;
Tonique Fraicheur: artificial colours red #4, yellow M, fragrance, alcohol-9%;
Hydrix (Moisturizer): mineral oil, lanolin, petrolatum, fragrance.
Mary Kay
Creamy Cleanser #2: mineral oil, DMDM hydantoin;
Refining Freshener U2: SD40 alcohol, artificial colours;
Balancing Moisturizer #2: mineral oil;
Gentle Cleansing Cream #7: mineral oil, petrolatum, beeswax, paraffin.
Merle Norman
Cleansing Lotion: mineral oil, petrolatum, lanolin, animal products;
Fresh'N'Fair: SD40 alcohol, fragrance, colours;
Moisture Emulsion: mineral oil, fragrance, lanolin, alcohol.
NaPCA Moisture Cream: human placenta extract, hyaluronic acid, fragrance, arachidylpropianate;
Rejuvenating Cream: human placenta extract, hyaluronic acid, quaternary ammonium compounds;
Intensive Eye Complex: avian collagen.
Revlon Ultima II
Extraordinary Lotion Cleanser: mineral oil, lanolin, alcohol, hydrolyzed animal protein, fragrance;
Extraordinary Firming Toner: SD40 alcohol, collagen hydrolyzed animal protein, fragrance, colour;
Moisture Lotion Concentrate: lanolin, alcohol, collagen, hydrolyzed animal protein, fragrance.
Proteinized Cleanser: petrolatum, lanolin, fragrance, colour;
Herbal Refreshener: SD40 alcohol, fragrance, colours
Facial Cleansing Cream: mineral oil, petrolatum, fragrance, beeswax;
Facial Soothing Lotion: fragrance, iron oxides;
Facial Moisturizing Lotion: alcohol, petrolatum, fragrance.
Natural Creamy Wash-Off Cleanser: petrolatum, lanolin, fragrance;
Nature Replenishing Toner: SD40 alcohol, fragrance, D and C red #33, #17, DF&C yellow, #5 yellow, #2 violet.
Christian Dior
Hydra Dior Cleansing Emission: mineral oil, fragrance;
Stimulating Lotion: SD40 alcohol, fragrance, collagen.
Extremely Gentle Cleansing Cream: mineral oil, petrolatum, lanolin, artificial colours;
Clarifying Lotion 3: SD 40 alcohol, acetone, artificial colours;
Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion: mineral oil, lanolin, petrolatum, artificial colours;
Super Powder Double Face Powder: talc, mineral oil, lanolin.
Elizabeth Arden Millenium
Hydrating Cleanser: mineral oil, artificial colours, artificial fragrances;
Revitalizing Toner: SD 40 alcohol, fragrance;
Night Renewal Cream: mineral oil, lanolin, fragrance, alcohol.
Erno Laszlo
Active pHeliiyl Oil: mineral oil, BHA, fragrance;
Light Controlling Lotion: SD40 alcohol, fragrance.
Estee Lauder (now owns Aveda Products as Welu)
Tender Cream Cleanser: mineral oil, fragrance;
Mild Action Protection Tonic: SD40 alcohol, fragrance, colour;
Skin Perfecting Cream: collagen, serum protein, fragrance;
Swiss Performing Extract: collagen, lanolin, mineral oil, lanolin, alcohol, fragrance.

Hazardous Ingredients to Avoid

There are many harmful ingredients that consumers should avoid:

Mineral oil, petroleum, petrolatum - petrochemical xenohormones that are now threatening not only our health but also the normal development of humankind;

SD40 alcohol (isopropyl) - petroleum-derived substance, it is also used in antifreeze and as a solvent in shellac and diluted essential oils. Fatal when ingested;

Talc - poses a serious risk of ovarian cancer. Estimates are that up to 17% of American women regularly use talc in the genital area. Women have been compelled through advertisements of the cosmetic industry, to dust themselves to mask odours. Talcum powder has historically been a symbol of freshness, cleanliness and purity. Talc is even more commonly used on infants;

DEA, MEA, TEA, (diethanolamine, monoethanolamine and triethanolmine), cocamide DEA, lauramide DEA - these are almost always in products that foam, bubble bath, bodywash, shampoo, soap, facial cleanser. On the TV show 'CBS This Morning', Roberta Baskin said: "It (DEA) is in hundreds of cosmetic products but it does something more than make soap bubbles. A Federal government study says that DEA and DEA-based detergents have been shown to greatly increase the risk of cancer, especially liver and kidney cancer";[7]

Fragrance - many of the compounds in fragrances are carcinogenic or otherwise toxic. Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients. Most, or all of them are synthetic. Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discolouration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation;

FD and C colour pigments - according to A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: "Many (pigments) cause skin sensitivity and irritation and absorption (of certain colours) can cause depletion of oxygen in the body, and death".[8] In Home Safe Home, author Debra Lynn Dadd said: "Colours that can be used in foods, drugs and cosmetics are made from coal tar. There is a great deal of controversy about their use because animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic";[9]

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) - not only are these potentially carcinogenic, but they contribute to stripping the skin's natural moisture factor, leaving the immune system vulnerable;

Triclosan - the EPA gives triclosan high scores both as a human health risk and as an environmental risk.

Most people that buy and sell products containing these ingredients don't even know they are harmful. The FDA has a GRAS list (Generally Regarded As Safe), and almost everything is listed there. Marketers selling these products mainly focus on the marketing hype and what the product is supposed to do for skin (clean it, make it feel soft, etc.). Sadly, of the 7000 ingredients used on the skin, only 5-6 have been tested for long-term safety, and none have been tested together. Currently, 125 ingredients are strongly suspected carcinogens, 20 cause adverse nervous system reactions and 25 are connected to birth defects.[6]

In 2001, consumers purchased just under $21.0 billion-worth of healthcare and personal products, such as cosmetics and other toiletries, without proof that they even do what they claim. So what are consumers really buying? Just a quick look at a few of the popular brands may change your buying habits forever.[10]

Child safety packaging and product warning labels are not enough. Not even close. Petrochemicals are all around us. They're pervasive in the air, soil, water, foo, and products we use on a daily basis. Therefore, your strategy has to be first education and awareness and then to take all the personal steps that you can to minimize your exposure.

Consumers must get into the habit of looking for all natural, botanically formulated products (plant derived). Don't be fooled by those that claim to be botanical but are actually mineral oil based with added herbs and nutrients. Although these companies are far and few between, they are out there. Unfortunately you will not be likely to find these products on the shelves of your favourite drug or department store. While mineral oil based products have a 15-year shelf life, true botanicals usually expire after a couple of years. Ingredients such as herbal and botanical extracts, apricot, camellia and chamomile oils, and natural fragrances such as jasmine, lavender and orange blossom are indicative of true botanicals.

As health conscious consumers we seem to be on our own with this matter. It doesn't appear that government legislation or the private sector will prohibit the use of harmful chemicals any time soon. There is a lot of helpful information available for anyone that wants to take the time to educate themselves. And, there are safe alternatives available. You just have to know where to look for them.

References and Bibliography

1. Lee John R, PhD. Breast Cancer, How Hormone Balance Can Help Save Your Life. Warner Books. 2002.
2. Journal of the American College of Toxicology. 2(7). 1983.
3. Edell Dr Dean., The Lancet. Jan 22, 2000.
4. Epstein Samuel S, MD. Major Cosmetic and Toiletry Ingredient Poses Avoidable Cancer Risks. Chicago Newswire. July 15, 2002.
5. AScribe News, The Public Interest Newswire. Groups Call for Labeling of Cosmetics and Toiletries, Citing Cancer and Other Health Risks. Chicago. Aug 15, 2002.
6. US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Office of Cosmetics. Fact Sheet. December 9, 1999.
7. Office of Information and Public Affairs, Washington, DC 20207. Release # 02-015. CPSC Requires Child-Resistant Packaging for Common Household Products Containing Hydrocarbons, Including Some Baby Oils. October 16, 2001.
8. Winter Ruth. A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. 4th Edition. Crown Publishers. 1994.
9. Dadd Debra Lynn. Home Safe Home. Tarcher/Putnam (Putnam Publishing Group). New York. 1997.
10. Barnes Ruth. Quarterly Retail Commodity Survey. The Daily. April, 10. 2002.
11. McGehee M Angela, PhD. Triclosan.
12. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 92: 1657-1666. 2000.
13. Steinman David. Do You Use These Products? Natural Health Magazine. September/October: 54-56. 1997.
14. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Alpha Hydroxy Acids for Skin Care, Smooth Sailing or Rough Seas? FDA Consumer. March-April 1998; Revised May 1999.
15. Franz D et al. Smelling Good But Feeling Bad. E Magazine. 11(1). Jan-Feb 2000.
16. Daughton CG et al. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: Agents of Subtle Change. Environmental Health Perspectives. 107(Supplement 6). December 1999.
17. Lyman Francesca. Concerns over chemicals in cosmetics. October 4, 2000.

Other Educational Resources:

John R Lee MD, P.O. Box 84900, Phoenix, AZ 85071; Tel: (800) 528-0559 or (602) 252-4477; Fax (602) 943-2363;
Samuel S Epstein MD - Professor Emeritus, Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois Chicago, School of Public Health, Chairman, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, Tel: 312-996-2297;
Shelley Kramer - Director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, Tel: 310 457 5176;;
Mark Helm - Director, Media Relations, Friends of the Earth, Washington, DC, Tel: 202-783-7400 x102;
Friends of the Earth, UK - 26-28 Underwood Street, London N1 7JQ, Tel: 020 7490 1555; Fax: 020 7490 0881;;
Bryony Schwan - National Campaigns Director, Women's Voices for the Earth, Tel: 406-543-3747;
American College of Toxicology:
Consumer Ingredients Review:

Further Information

For more information on botanically formulated products contact the author or Arbonne International, 15 Argonaut, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656, 1-800-Arbonne,
For more information on ingredients to avoid contact the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Office of Cosmetics.


  1. Jennifer Rickman said..

    This is amazing and I didn't know any of this until I started to sell Arbonne Products. It makes me sick.

  2. Sarah Aggrey-Ogoe said..

    This information is amazing. It just reinforces the fact that individually we need to take responsibility of what we consume and choose to be healthy.

  3. Mary Banco said..

    I decided today that I am done taking the risk with my family's health.

  4. linda said..

    I find it interesting that all this "information" is supplied by a company that sells natural products hmmm. In my own life i have researched and found that many of these "studies" like so many others may not be totally accurate. There is more to this than meets the eye.

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About Kit Anderson

Kit Anderson is a successful healthcare consultant for Arbonne International. Arbonne's botanical skin care products are formulated in Switzerland at the Arbonne Institute of Research and Development and made in the US. Arbonne is a leading supplier of natural healthcare, skin care. She can be contacted on Tel: 001 623-261-3314; and nutritional products. Kit is also an accomplished author and a 20-year sales and marketing veteran

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