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How To Recognise and Avoid Harmful Petrochemical Ingredients in Cosmetics and Skincare Beauty Products

Beauty Glossary: Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals are chemical products made from the raw materials of petroleum or other hydrocarbons. Whilst it's not been proven that all petrochemicals are carcinogenic (cancer-causing), I think that it's shocking that so many beauty and skincare brands still regularly use petrochemical ingredients in their products when there is such controversy around their safety.

The two main classes of petrochemical raw materials are olefins (including ethylene and propylene) and aromatics (including benzene and xylene isomers), both of which are produced in very large quantities throughout the world. So you know what to avoid here's a list of petrochemicals which are often used as ingredients in beauty and skincare products. Just read more.

  • Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol. It is often used to add scent or colour to products.
  • Isopropyl alcohol is colourless and often used in solvents. It's a common ingredient in nail varnish remover.
  • Propylene glycol is widely used as a moisturiser in skincare and cosmetics. Propylene glycol increases the body's acidity and can cause allergic reactions especially in those with sensitive skin conditions, such as eczema.
  • Benzene is now a known carcinogenic but was frequently used in fragrance and aftershave in the early twentieth century. It has been widely boycotted by the beauty industry.
  • Phenol has antiseptic qualities and is also used in cosmetic surgery as an extreme exfoliant to remove layers of dead skin. It is also used in phenolization, a surgical procedure which is used to treat ingrown nails by preventing the regrowth of the nail.
  • Acetone is the key ingredient in most nail varnish removers. It can be toxic just from skin absorption but generally that means in large quantities.


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