When it comes to deciding which personal care product to purchase for your family, I believe there are many parents who would choose differently if they had a greater knowledge of ingredients and what toxins to watch out for on labels. Knowledge is power, so with a view to empowering families I have written a series of blogs exposing some common toxic ingredients contained in personal care products, particularly those aimed out our precious children.

Mineral Oil:

An incredibly common ingredient in personal care products is mineral oil.  Statistics indicate 98% of the cosmetic/personal care products on the US market contain mineral oil and the figures would no doubt be similar for Australia, which is why this ingredient has the honour of being discussed first. The majority of parents simply do not realise that most baby lotions are nothing but mineral oils in different forms (liquid and solid), that are modified with fragrance.

Mineral oil is produced as a by product of the distillation of gasoline from crude oil. It has absolutely no nutritional value. John Hopkins University named mineral oil in cosmetics and moisturisers as the number two cause of aging – the first being direct exposure to the sun.  The reason mineral oil causes aging is that it forms a thin layer on the skin that resembles a layer of plastic.  This is commonly referred to as the “cling film” effect that leads to many of the known side-effects of the use of mineral oil.

The oil film on the skin blocks the pores and the skin’s natural respiration. It traps dirt and bacteria and blocks the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and botanicals that may be in a product.  It can cause skin itching or rashes  and  there are some studies that have shown forms of pneumonia caused by mineral oil decreasing lung function, known as lipoid pneumonia. Because of these dangers, the use of mineral oil taken orally or as an ingredient in medications particularly in the case of pregnancy or for infants is restricted. A mineral oil manufacturer’s website (Caltex –yes, the same people who you buy petrol for your car from) contains this CAUTION – An orally administered mineral oil should not be used during pregnancy or for infants, except upon advice of a physician.

Given these harmful effects, when caring for babies or small children it is best to use all natural and preferably organic products. Babies love to put their hands in their mouths, this is how they explore the world.  By extension this means that whatever is on your baby’s hands is also going into their mouth and into their body so you need to be alert to dangers.

With this caution in mind a good rule of thumb is to decide to use a product only if the expected benefit outweighs the possible risk.  In the case of mineral oil, the claimed benefit of moisturised skin could be obtained from any number of non-reactive organic vegetable oils (like sesame oil or avocado) which present none of the harmful side-effects listed for mineral oil, so the risk of using mineral oil is greater than the claimed benefit in this instance  enabling you to  easily decide against mineral oil based products.

So, if this ingredient causes premature aging and has some serious known health risks the genuine question remains – why do so many products contain mineral oil?

Mineral oil has two benefits that cosmetic manufacturers love.  Firstly, as mineral oil is essentially a leftover liquid and very abundant it is inexpensive, dare I say it – cheap. In fact, it is more expensive to dispose of mineral oil than to purchase it. This means higher profits for the manufacturer. Secondly, these non-biodegradable oils provide long-term oxidative stability and they have replaced natural oils in cosmetic formulations – this means they never go rancid and last forever!

How to identify mineral oil on labels:

Depending on its state, mineral oil has three official names (1) mineral oil – for liquid state, (2) petrolatum – for jelly state and (3) paraffin wax – for solid state.

However, manufacturers often opt for a common synonym – like liquid paraffin.  Here is a list of some of the common synonyms mineral oil, petrolatum and paraffin wax are labelled as:

Paraffin oil; liquid paraffin; paraffinum liquidum; light liquid paraffin (paraffinum liquidum);  paraffinum perliquidum; oil mist; oil mist (mineral); mineral oil mist; mineral; mineral syrup, mineral oil hydrocarbon solvent (petroleum); mineral oil (saturated paraffin oil); petroleum; white mineral oil; white oil; white mineral oil mist; hydrocarbon oils; petroleum hydrocarbons; paraffinic; petroleum jelly and soft paraffin.

Important tip:

If you don’t understand what an ingredient is or don’t recognise the name DON’T BUY THE PRODUCT.

If the product’s claims sound good (ie, fantastic for dry skin) and it’s reasonably priced the deciding factor still needs to be a correct understanding of the ingredients to enable you to weigh up the claimed benefits over any possible risk.  Please stop and check you understand what you are putting on your skin before you buy.

The best money you will ever spend is investing in a cosmetic dictionary to enable you to quickly look up ingredients and determine their true name/source. I can recommend “Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: Complete Information About the Harmful and Desirable Ingredients in Cosmetics (7th edition), by Ruth Winter.  You can buy this dictionary in an ebook format for only $12.95 which you can download onto your mobile to take with you to the shops or load onto your PC at home.

Buying a certified organic product range means you have a guarantee there are no petroleum based ingredients, no toxins and all plant material has been grown without the use of pesticide or synthetic fertilisers.  What might cost a little extra at the start will soon pay off as your skin’s health improves and you see the benefits a certified organic skincare product, like Pure & Green organics, will bring you.

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