Use in Cosmetics
Petrolatum is mineral oil jelly (i.e. petroleum jelly). It is used as a barrier to lock moisture in the skin in a variety of moisturizers and also in hair care products to make your hair shine.
Health and Environmental Hazards
A petroleum product, petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs — including skin contact over extended periods of time — is associated with cancer. i On this basis, the European Union classifies petrolatum a carcinogen ii and restricts its use in cosmetics. PAHs in petrolatum can also cause skin irritation and allergies. iii
In the European Union, petrolatum can only be used in cosmetics "if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen." iv There is no parallel restriction in Canada. Petrolatum has been flagged for future assessment under the government's Chemicals Management Plan.
Mineral oil and petroleum distillates are related petroleum by-products used in cosmetics. Like petrolatum, these ingredients may be contaminated with PAHs.
i ATSDR. ToxFAQs for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Sep 1996. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts69.html#bookmark06
ii European Commission. Regulation (EC) 1272/2008 , Annex VI, Table 3.2. Sep 2009. http://ecb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/classification-labelling/
iii Ulrich, G. et al. "Sensitaization to petrolatum: an unusual cause of false-positive drug patch-tests." Allergy 59, 9 (2004): 1006-1009.
iv European Commission. Cosmetic Directive 2003/83/EC, Annex II, Ref. 904. http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/cosing/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.results&annex=II&search