So what’s the deal with petroleum-derived cosmetic ingredients?

Over the past few years, people have been increasingly aware of the presence of ingredients from the petrochemical industry in all sorts of cosmetic products, ranging everywhere from showering products to skin moisturizers, to lip balms and even to your toothpaste! So you might often be “eating” mineral oil and not even be aware of it.

The truth is, petroleum-derived ingredients are amazing! The petrochemical industry has been well established for over a century, and most of the organic compounds obtained from crude oil are well characterized. Moreover: petroleum holds so many different compounds and they can all be separated into fractions, mostly according to their fusion points. These fractions can then be used as liquid oils, oils that are only liquid at certain temperatures, oils that do not go solid in cold temperatures, waxes with different temperature ranges, polymers, etc. The list goes on and on and it’s easy to imagine all the applications that these oils, waxes and so on can be used for.

And the magic of it: all these compounds are versatile! This means that most of them can be changed easily, by adding or subtracting hydrogen and oxygen atoms, by playing around and transforming alcohols into ethers, or carboxylic ethers into esters… Well, for a passionate and creative chemist working with petroleum brings upon endless possibilities!

So no wonder petroleum-derived ingredients have dominated the cosmetic industry for so long. They are the base of many facial creams, body washes, shower gels and shampoos; they are in lip balms, in mascara, in lipstick, in gloss.

It’s fairly easy to spot these ingredients in a cosmetic product, as worldwide legislation demands for labelling the ingredients in order of percentage in each formula. For example, if you find the word “liquid paraffinum” early in the formula (for example: water, liquid paraffinum, etc) you can be assured that it is one of the dominating ingredients in the formula.

Here are some of the most usual culprits: Benzene, Mineral oil, Paraffinum liquidum, Liquid paraffin, Paraffin wax, Petrolatum, Petroleum jelly, Toluene. (The list goes on, but these are the most evident).

Many of the ingredients listed are used for its occlusive properties. “Occlusive” is a quality people look for in a make-up product, such as a BB cream or a CC cream, when they have an uneven skin surface and they look for a product that spreads across the skin, leaving it with the appearance of a smooth surface.

What shocks me at times, is that some of these occlusive ingredients can be 30% of a cream formula (in which 60% is water) designed for atopic skin, treating eczema or psoriasis, skins that have structural anomalies, feel dry and itchy and require a replenishment of lipids in various skin layers. So, if 60% is water and 30% is occlusive material, so that your skin feels protected and smooth, what happens with the remaining 10% of ingredients in the formula? Is is your skin really being nourished?

Considering that in the remaining part of the formula you still need emulsifying agents, stabilizers, preservatives and possibly fragrance, how much nutrition are you actually providing the skin with? And: do you get oils which are compatible with different layers of your skin, which can be absorbed and incorporated, to help renew your deep skin tissue?

Being aware of the petrochemical ingredients is only the beginning. The real work is learning about natural, plant-derived oils that are compatible with our skin and how they can supply the nutrition the skin requires, at the same time taking over the benefits of the better-characterized petroleum ingredients.

Hence, the first part of the work is to come up with combinations of seed oils best suited for each skin complexion, adapted to different temperatures and climates around the world, and translatable into various types of cosmetic formulas.

The second part of the challenge is to find batches of raw materials that are constant over times. And, as we know, Mother Nature is not very constant, and depends of many factors and climate suprises, so the same production field can produce very different batches of virgin olive oil in consecutive years. Therefore, one needs to be constantly updated on the technical information for each batch, ready to adjust the % in each formula and, even, to replace the seed oils whenever necessary. Not an easy task!

However, we find that knowing our plant seed oils and their many benefits is key to our business proposition and our business ethos. At Phytosphera, we thrive to bring you the best ingredients for you to achieve the best outcomes. In the simplest, rawest, purest way possible.

Phytosphera. Feel at Home in Your Skin.

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