For many years, I worked in Pharmaceutical and OTC (Over The Counter) Marketing, developing and selling a whole host of products to go ‘in’ or ‘on’ our bodies. It was lots of fun – making money, beating the competition, seeing our new products fly off the shelves… I’m sure we convinced ourselves that the products we were creating were really helping our customers and enhancing their lives – and who knows, maybe they were?
However, increasingly I was becoming concerned about some of the ‘stuff’ that was going into these products. Sure, the various regulatory bodies had deemed all the ingredients ‘safe’ but it seemed unnatural to me to be coating my skin, my lips, my hands with petrol and chemicals synthesised in a lab – I wouldn’t eat the stuff so why was I putting on my skin – surely some of it would be absorbed, wouldn’t it?
I remember walking around Boots one day looking at the ingredients in each product in their vast range of skin-care and cosmetics (by law we have to put a product’s ingredients on the packaging somewhere). Perhaps I had been naïve, after all I’d worked in this industry for years, but I was shocked at how many of the products, even those who promoted themselves as ‘natural’ or ‘nature’s cure’ or whatever, listed their main ingredients as: ‘Aqua’ (water), ‘Petrolatum’ (petroleum jelly, or paraffin) and a range of chemicals such as Cetaryl Alcohol, Emulsifying Wax-NF, PEG-20 Stearate, Propylene Glycol, Stearyl Alcohol NF, and Polysorbate 80 – these are all chemical emulsifiers which stop the ‘Petrolatum’ and water from separating (like when you mix oil and vinegar).
I looked it up – ‘Petrolatum’ is ‘a derivative of the oil refining industry which was originally found coating the bottom of oil rigs in the mid 1800s’. It acts by creating an ‘impenetrable barrier’ across your skin, effectively locking the moisture in – rather like if you covered yourself in cling-film. I also read up about the various chemical emulsifiers – an interesting read!
Anyway, unless this industry has a big scandal (unlikely methinks) most people will probably carry on buying this stuff and coating their bodies in it. But there are alternatives – you might have to look a bit harder, but there are skincare products out there that don’t use petrol as their main base – if you want a ‘thicker’ product, look for those containing beeswax or carnauba wax (this is a plant-based wax that has not come into contact with any animals and so is approved by the Vegan society); for a ‘thinner’ product, there are some lovely ranges of oils available – indeed, many of the oils we use for cooking make great skin moisturisers (olive oil – nice and rich, sunflower oil – more quickly absorbed, my fave is watermelon seed oil – bit harder to get hold of but feels fab on your skin) the only disadvantage of these oils is that, because they are good enough to eat, I find that I am suddenly a rather appealing ‘licking stick’ for our cats and forever hungry dog…