Would you put petrol on your baby’s skin?

On the news yesterday was an item about cosmetics that contain liquid paraffin and petroleum products and how, when using them on your skin, the unabsorbed residue can rub off onto clothes and sheets thus making them flammable.

Here’s a link to the one that was reported on yesterday:   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39308748

While this is highly shocking and a tragic accident there have, apparently, been 37 deaths in England from combustion which have been put down to people using skin creams that contain liquid paraffin.

So, I thought in today’s blog that I’d look at why paraffin and liquid petroleum are used in products – especially products that are sold as being suitable for sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis and other dry skin conditions.

What’s in your skincare?

If you have a look on your skincare ingredients you’ll often see the words petrolatum or paraffinum liquidium.  These are the inci/latin names for petrol and liquid paraffin.  Both are by products of petroleum production.  They’re also called mineral oil.

The fact is, liquid paraffin, petrol or mineral oils are regularly formulated into skin care treatments to create products that leave a protective layer on the skin that is supposed to help retain hydration. They give a greasy but smooth feeling on the skin, giving the user a feeling of having moisturised their skin.

Due to this presumed moisturised feeling mineral oils are also a common addition to eczema and psoriasis creams.  Eczema is believed to flare up due to lack of moisture, and by ‘waterproofing’ the skin, liquid paraffin is thought to be able to reduce symptoms of this distressing skin condition.

But the big question is this; does a cream that creates a ‘feeling’ of moisture because of containing liquid paraffin actually moisturise the dermis of the skin? And if this ingredient is so good for the skin, why do some eczema sufferers seem to suffer more when using creams that contain these chemical ingredients?

Possible Dangers of Liquid Paraffin

One of the observations of liquid paraffin is that it doesn’t actually moisturise the dermis of the skin (the bit that needs moisture). It creates a waterproof layer on the skin which protects the skin’s natural moisture barrier but the feeling of moisture isn’t real.

After someone uses a cream with liquid paraffin, the soft, silky sensation on the skin is that of the mineral oil on the skins surface, and not of the actual skin texture. The skin is simply covered with something that feels soft! Therefore, the moisturising effects of liquid paraffin on the skin are simply an illusion.

The bigger danger, however, is that liquid paraffin can cause breakouts in some individuals. For example, some skin experts have suggested that mineral oil ingredients can clog pores and promote the development of some types of acne. Although the research on this topic is still inconclusive, individuals with a history of severe acne may want to avoid products with liquid paraffin, as a safety precaution.

Products with Liquid Paraffin

There are many, many products on the market that contain liquid paraffin, including nappy rash creams, baby products, foot creams and many, many cosmetics and products for specific skin conditions.   Products such as baby oil, E45 cream, Petroleum Jelly, Sudocrem and even good old Palmers Cocoa Butter cream all contain liquid paraffin, petroleum and some contain lanolin (another waterproofing additive that many people are allergic to).

Even aqueous cream, which is routinely prescribed by doctors to men, women, children and babies who are eczema and psoriasis sufferers, has a base of liquid paraffin and soft paraffin wax to form the waterproof barrier, as well as Sodium Laureth Sulfate – a known irritant – to clean the skin.

These ingredients are really, really cheap to put in products and they can be used in massive, vast bulk so it’s easy to dole it out to everyone, regardless of whether it helps or not.  But no two skins are the same so it’s very naive to assume that one or two products fit all.

To avoid nasty side effects from liquid paraffin, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your dermatologist, especially as the news is now reporting cases of people catching fire if their clothing or bedding or skin becomes impregnated with these creams. E45 are going to be putting flamability warnings on their products from now on but, while this is a good safety thing, maybe we shouldn’t be putting flammable stuff on our skins in the first place!

So what are the alternatives to paraffin, petroleum and mineral oil?

There are many alternatives to mineral oils.  They’re usually more expensive but always better for your skin. However, even vegetable oil from your kitchen cupboard would be a better alternative to rubbing mineral oil on your skin.  Mineral oil will never absorb properly into the skin so it will stay on the surface making you think it’s moisturised but it won’t provide moisture to the dermis of the skin – the layer of skin which most needs moisture in order to repair itself. 

Alternatives would be olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, beeswax, olive wax, coconut wax, cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter…. There is a vast list of natural, lovely oils, waxes and butters that come from nature and actually absorb into the skin to provide moisture deep down where the skin needs it most.  Add that with some essential oils which benefit dry skin conditions and you’re onto a natural winning formula which is going to help your skin problems, rather than just papering over the cracks and maintaining skin conditions with mineral oils.

Think of the skin like a living, breathing piece of wood.  If you varnish it so it can’t breathe it will eventually crack and need more and more layers of varnish which will suffocate it and make it crack more; but if you oil the wood with a nurturing oil and condition it with something that sinks in and brings out the condition of the wood it will keep lovely for a lot longer.  It will be able to breathe and won’t need varnishing.

Conditioned skin will be healthier and will be able to heal itself.  Let’s keep the petrol in the pumps and not in our bathroom cupboards. 🙂 xx

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