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Petrolatum. What They Don't Tell You

I have long advised my readers that petrolatum is generally bad for hair and skin. It is a byproduct of the petroleum industry and is not tightly regulated in the United States like it is in the EU for cosmetic use.  Here's why you should reconsider product containing petrolatum.

vaselineYou will see petrolatum listed under a few names such as Petroleum Jelly, Paraffin Oil, Mineral Oil and White Petrolatum. White Petrolatum is fully refined and is what they should be using in cosmetics (if anything). The other names cannot be guaranteed to be free of dangerous contaminents such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Under this federal administration, safety regulations are being scrapped all over the place to make manufacturing cheaper.

It coats the hair and skin with an inpenetrable barrier. It clogs pores, attracts dust and allergens, is difficult to remove and is generally a disaster for skin and natural hair. And in the USA you don't even know its refining history.

Petrolatum is listed as a probable human carcinogen in the European Union’s Dangerous Substances Directive (UNECE 2004).The EU mandates that for cosmetic use, the full refining history of the petrolatum must be known and proven to be non-carcinogenic. Its use in cosmetics was banned from September 2004 with the following caveat: “The classification as a carcinogen need not apply if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen.” 

The US sets no such requirements on refinement and the PAH content in the petrolatum used in personal care products.[6]

When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns. However, with an incomplete refining history, petrolatum could potentially be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs are byproducts of organic material combustion, commonly stored in fats upon exposure due to its lipophilic properties.[1] There is no way to confirm proper refinement unless a complete refining history is provided.

PRIMARY HEALTH CONCERN: Cancer

PAHs. PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are common contaminants in petrolatum. Petrolatum is found in one of every 14 products on the market (7.1 percent of the products assessed by EWG), including 15 percent of all lipstick and 40 percent of al baby lotions and oils. USFDA restricts petrolatum in food to no more than 10 parts per million, and requires petrolatum used in food packaging or drugs to meet impurity restrictions for PAHs (21 CFR 178, 21 CFR 172.880).

But the FDA allows any amount of petrolatum of any purity in personal care products, many of which are applied directly to the lips and swallowed.

The primary concern with petrolatum is the potential contamination with PAHs. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) considers PAHs as a class to contain reasonably anticipated carcinogens[2]; the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists 14 PAHs as probable or possible carcinogens and one PAH as a known carcinogen.[3]  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.[4] The formation of PAH-DNA adducts, an indicator of PAH exposure, is linked to cancer development. [5]

In closing, all I have to say is reconsider your use of petrolatum by any name. It is difficult to eliminate it entirely but take the time to read labels and choose wisely. Just like baby power has now been revealed to have contained asbestos for decades, causing illness and death in consumers, you don't know what is in it and what consequences it may have on your future health. It's just not worth the risk.

 

Safecosmetics.org has more information.

References

[1] “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).” (n.d.)  BreastCancerFund. Web. 10 Aug. 2015. http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/radiation-chemicals-and-breast-cancer/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons.html
[2] NTP (National Toxicology Program). 2014. Report on Carcinogens, Thirteenth Edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.  http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/roc13/
[3] International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2014). Agents classified by the IARC monographs, volumes 1–112. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/
[4] “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).” (n.d.) BreastCancerFund. Web. 10 Aug. 2015. http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/radiation-chemicals-and-breast-cancer/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons.html
[5] Pratt, M. M., John, K., MacLean, A. B., Afework, S., Phillips, D. H., & Poirier, M. C. (2011). Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Exposure and DNA Adduct Semi-Quantitation in Archived Human Tissues. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health8(7), 2675–2691. doi:10.3390/ijerph8072675
[6] Substance: Petrolatum. (2015, August 9).

Last modified on Thursday, 19 September 2019 04:45
Deecoily

Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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