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Naturally Thinking: Beware of fossil fuel on your skin

April 7, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

By Lauren D. Ragland

Special to

The Inter-Mountain

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by Lauren D. Ragland
Plant-based products, such as those that contain coconut oil, make great natural moisturizers.

"After you change the baby's diaper, spread this rod wax all over her bottom."

That sounds ridiculous, right? But that is what petroleum jelly actually is, the paraffin-like goo formed on oil rigs. This black, unrefined rod wax is distilled, the lighter oil products are removed and a light-colored gel commonly called Vaseline is created.

We actually are putting a fossil fuel product on our skin - a known environmental hazard. Are we stupid, or just uninformed?

White petroleum jelly (petrolatum) is a cheap product known to cause cancer. It is practically unregulated. Neither the raw material petrolatum, nor the final products are checked for harmful ingredients in the United States. The product is banned for use in cosmetics in both the European Union and Canada - but no, not in America.

Most of the labels I have checked state that the product was made in India or China. I find it hard to believe that there are any health safety standards being met in those countries when they are not required in ours! Petrolatum's varied and unregulated manufacturing procedures make it very vulnerable to contamination. It is both unregulated and untested.

Like me, you have probably never thought seriously about the history of one of the most typical American household staples, used on babies' bottoms for generations. Long popular for cuts and burns, it sits on shelves in most homes along with the band-aids, hydrogen peroxide and alcohol. After preparing for this week's "Naturally Thinking," I believe I have a handle on what is the best way to moisturize your skin from face to feet, and you can be certain it is not dangerous petroleum jelly.

As a child I always liked the smell of Vaseline. I was a big sister and very familiar with its use in diaper care. It smelled like the scent coming in the window when gas was pumped into the station wagon. Now, this seems somewhat prophetic to what I now understand about this toxic product.

The truth has been right on the label since 1872. This product is made from fossil fuels, and we have been spreading it on innocent babies and children for more than 130 years.

I learned from the Environmental Working Group that across the ocean the European Union has banned the use of more than 1,000 substances in cosmetics. On our side of the pond, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has barred the use of exactly eight substances in cosmetics, yes - eight.

It turns out that the innocent-looking, light yellow waxy product is considered to be very toxic. The European Union's Dangerous Substances Directive (UNECE 2004) lists petrolatum as a "probable human carcinogen" and is banned for all personal care products.

Most importantly, the EU report states that the consumer purchasing a product containing petrolatum has no way to know if the ingredient is high or low in the carcinogenic PAHs.

Yes - you just read the word "carcinogenic," as in "causing cancer" - in an article on a baby product! What's a PAH anyway? Answer: PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are common contaminants in petrolatum.

Melissa Breyer wrote in "Petroleum Jelly on Your Face?" that "Petrolatum's only publicly listed concern is possible contamination from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are common contaminants in petrolatum."

PAHs are banned use in cosmetics in Europe and Canada. Yet, although our EPA links PAHs to cancer, also causing reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, persistence and bioaccumulation - its use is allowed in the U.S.

In cancer survivor Britta Aragon's excellent blog "Cinco Vidas," I learned that the danger petroleum can present in the workplace has been long accepted. Most auto mechanics are warned that longterm exposure to petroleum products can cause skin cancer.

Yet the cosmetic industry leads us to believe that these same products clean and moisturize our skin. If petroleum products use environment damaging fossil fuels, why would we want to put this on our skin?

Studies reported by the Chemtox website show the side effects of toxic petroleum ingredients as "causing significant attritional effects to the nervous system and immune system after prolonged exposure. Illnesses identified in the medical research include adult and child cancers, numerous neurological disorders, immune system weakening, autoimmune disorders (and more)." Really?

I did promise a suggestion for the best natural moisturizer on the planet Earth. Actually I have a six and they are all plant-based oils: avocado, coconut, grape seed, mustard, olive or shea butter.

The most absorbent moisturizers are these emulsified plant-based oils. They closely resemble sebum, the natural oil produced by human skin. Women's Magazine's, "Petroleum Jelly Side Effects And Dangers" at, also explains that we can pick our favorite plant-based oil, because they are all required by law to be tested for purity, unlike petroleum jelly. Plant-based oils are required by law to be tested for pesticide and herbicide residues and are not likely to contain harmful chemicals.

Our favorite here in the Ragland home is coconut oil. It takes a little effort and planning but after many months of addiction I can share that we know it is so worth the effort! Coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees - it is hard like lard. It is above the stove with our other cooking oils. We saute with it because it has a higher flash point than olive oil. It has no flavor or smell, and it is light.

For the softest, smoothest skin, the ritual is to scoop out about half a cup and place it in a small, plastic, tight container. The next step is tossing it in the tub, where it will bounce around your feet while you take your shower. By the time you are done, the solid coconut oil is a warm slippery liquid. Spread from face to feet after every shower, and in a couple of weeks you'll be happy you spent the time to read this!

I have made many new best friends for life after sharing this story of naturally thinking, and you will too. You're welcome!

- Lauren d'Ablemont Ragland is a freelance writer living in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest in Randolph County. This column provides general health and natural healing information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).



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