Most people don’t know it, but petroleum by-products can be found in a lot of the products we use in our daily lives. While you might be thinking these types of ingredients are mostly found in topical beauty and personal care products, industrial types of products like fuel, styrofoam and plastics, they actually are often found in our food products as well. This is especially true of processed foods (no surprise there).
These byproducts are simply offshoots of petroleum that are created by chemical breakdown processes. Often times they can be contaminated with the volatile chemicals used to process them, and some come with potential carcinogenic warnings.
When used in the beauty and personal care industry, they also are notorious for “masking” the skin. This doesn’t allow your skin to breathe, and often times these byproducts have no actual “nutritional” value for your skin, they simply sit on top of it and clog the pores.
What to look for on the ingredient labels
There are quite a few derivatives of petroleum whose chemical name wouldn’t give away the fact that they are a part of this family. Remember to look not only on your personal care and beauty products, but also on your food labels. If it doesn’t specifically say “petroleum free”, then you know you have a little investigating to do.
There is one general rule of thumb you can use to help avoid these ingredients when looking on your ingredient labels. Look for the following names as well as components usually contained in the end of the ingredient names : “sodium laureth sulfate” and ingredients that include “PEG,” “xynol,” “propylene glycol”, “ceteareth,” and “oleth.”
Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum, and it is still found in a lot of makeup and personal care products because it is so easily accessed and is extremely cheap. Mineral oil is to be avoided since it is one of the worst pore-clogging ingredients you’ll find in a product meant for the skin, especially a facial skin care product. This goes especially for people who are acne-prone since their skin is more apt to break out from these masking types of “moisturizers” and makeup products.
Avoid any products with “fragrance” listed in the ingredient list. Most artificial fragrances are derived from some sort of petrochemical aromatic compound. Synthetic fragrances can also contain any number of other chemicals that can be disruptive to our hormone balance, carcinogenic, and toxic to our immune system.
Why would petroleum byproducts be used in our food?
Petroleum oils and byproducts are often used in food because they have a long shelf life. This is because they are not truly “food”. Anything with real nutritional value such as vitamins, enzymes, beneficial fats, fiber and other organic compounds goes bad.
One of the most pervasive of these petro-products is propylene glycol. You’ll often find this one in lower quality ice creams and frozen products as a softening agent. It is also often times used in moist or partly moist pet foods as a wettening agent (this is what it’s often used for in personal care products too, so that they don’t dry out over their long shelf life).
Butylene glycol, another petroleum derivative, is often used as a food additive. Not only does it help to maintain a certain softness and texture to processed foods, but it generally has a sweet flavor so it adds sweetness as well.
One petrochemical called methylnaphthalene, was identified in a huge recalled batch of one popular brand of cereal after customers reported getting sick from smelling and/or eating the cereal. Yet this chemical is still produced in mass quantities for a variety of industrial and consumer good uses here in the US.
Snack foods such as chips, crackers, packaged desserts and such should also be closely watched for these types of ingredients. Petroleum based ingredients are often used as freshness preserving additives as well as to enhance the flavor. They could also use artificial food coloring (FD&C will often be on the label in front of this), which can also contain petroleum derivatives.
Danna Norek founded AuraSensory.com, which offers a line of popular and effective haircare, skincare and personal care products (including a newly released all-natural underarm deodorant balm) free of petroleums, artificial fragrances and formaldehyde-producing preservatives.
Sources for this article include: