Winter warriors know the drill: Across the country, when freezing temperatures hit, people reach for Chapstick or Vaseline to heal cracked lips or red, raw knuckles.The thick, glossy goop is just the thing to combat dry skin in frigid temperatures and biting winds.
But have you ever stopped to think about what’s in that stuff?
Petroleum jelly, or petrolatum, is a byproduct of crude oil. Yep, the fossil fuel that makes your car run is also found in anything that contains mineral oil or petroleum jelly.
If you’ve ever used these products on your skin, you already know they can clog pores and causes acne. But this annoying side effect is also one of the main reasons that cosmetics manufacturers use petrolatum in their products—it creates an amazing barrier over skin, which helps seal in moisture. But, because of this plastic wrap-like seal, dirt and bacteria and sweat can get trapped in pores, causing pimples and skin irritation.
According to the Environmental Working Group, petrolatum is found in one of every 14 beauty products like makeup or lotion. It’s also in 15 percent of lipsticks and (eeek!) 40 percent of baby lotions and oils. Why? It’s an inexpensive filler that helps products glide on more smoothly and feel more moisturizing. [
Troublingly, a 2011 study of 142 women found evidence of mineral oil and petrolatum in the fatty tissue samples taken from 100% of the participants. Because the body can’t metabolize petrolatum, it can’t be digested, broken down, or eliminated. Which means this ingredient is hanging out in your body forever.
In fact, the women in the study each had about one gram of mineral oil in their bodies, but some had a whopping 10 grams. And it’s all in the name of making yourself beautiful. which researchers determined was all from cosmetics use. Those beauty products and lotions get absorbed into the system through skin, so even if you’re not using lipstick or Chapstick, you’re still taking in petroleum. Yuck.
Even worse, there’s research that suggests mineral oil and petrolatum are hormone disruptors. Symptoms of endocrine disruption include a wide range of health concerns, including fertility problems, diminished sex drive, kidney disease, and birth defects—definitely not worth is just for softer skin or lipstick that smooths on a little easier.
But there’s good news for those who battle dry skin in the winter months. Products that contain coconut oil, shea butter, and jojoba oil are just as good at hydrating skin naturally. And you won’t be turning your internal organs into an oil slick.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho
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