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Why You Should Avoid Petrochemicals in Skincare

Petrochemicals, aka, chemicals obtained from petroleum and natural gas, are incredibly pervasive in the beauty industry. For example—brace yourself for a long list—synthetic emulsifiers, synthetic preservatives like parabens, parafin wax, mineral oil, toluene, benzene, silicones, synthetic dyes and fragrances, butanol and butyl-anything, any ingredient that ends in propyl, and PEG, DEA, or MEA. Whew. At Tracie Martyn, we choose not to include any of these common ingredients for a handful of different reasons that we’ll get into here. It is important to note that our aim is not to cause fear but to educate and help you make an informed decision.

Petrochemicals can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane

The health issue with petrochemicals is that 1,4-dioxane—a contaminant found to likely contribute to cancers while also being toxic for the kidney, brain, and respiratory system—can be unintentionally generated during the production process. Though beauty companies will state that their refinement process eliminates 1,4-dioxane, there is actually no way to know for certain if a product contains it, as the FDA doesn’t require it to be listed on product labels. It’s also particularly concerning that research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin. The Environmental Working Group has found that around 57% of baby soaps and 22% of all products in its cosmetic database were likely contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.

Botanical oils > mineral oils

Petroleum-derived ingredients like mineral oil are used for their occlusive properties, which means that they sit on top of your skin and trap in moisture. Though they make your skin feel soft and moisturized, all they do is trap in existing hydration and moisture rather than replenishing it. Mineral oil also doesn’t give your skin any actual nutrients—like filling up on white bread instead of a plant-based meal—and is used by companies simply because it is cheap. Instead, we believe in botanical oils like jojoba oil and black currant seed oil that actually absorb into your skin and provide it with all the essential fatty acids and antioxidants it needs to stay youthful and vibrant. (See the Face Resculpting Cream for botanical oil goodness.)

Certain petrochemicals have been linked to health problems

Even if you ignore the 1,4-dioxane risk, there are certain petrochemicals that have also been separately linked to health issues. We recommend avoiding these common ingredients in your skincare.

    • Benzene: Known human carcinogen and can cause developmental toxicity. It is also an endocrine disruptor
    • Parabens: These synthetic preservatives have been found to be endocrine disruptors and have also been linked to skin cancer.
    • Parfum or fragrance: Artificial fragrances are made up of many, many different chemicals, including those which are linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, and sensitivities. 
    • Mineral oils: The toxicity of mineral oil is dependent on its refinement process (the more refined, the less toxic). Untreated and mildly treated mineral oils are known human carcinogens.
    • DEA & TEA: These may contain impurities called nitrosamines that have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity. Like 1,4-dioxane, nitrosamines do not have to be listed on labels.



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