Dating back to ancient Egypt and Europe people everywhere would use lead filled makeup on their faces and bodies. These days, however, our government realizes the dangers and would never let us apply something so hazardous on our skin, right? Wrong. Just as lead causes memory and concentration problems, nervous system and kidney damage and high blood pressure; petroleum products can also cause health issues. American businesses consistently use petroleum derivatives in our food, drinks, and personal care products, and these additives cause diseases such as, cancer, skin dermatitis, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
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Petroleum consists of a liquid mix of hydrocarbons found in the depths of the earth that society refines to create fuel. The term petroleum derivatives includes different chemicals made from petroleum and that have a variety of names, concealing what the people of the world truly put on their skin and in their bodies. Some of these chemicals include, parabens, tertiary-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), petroleum jelly, and paraffinum liquidum also known as mineral oil. Americans may see these items on the ingredient list of some of their groceries, just assuming that our government will protect us; after all, why would a well trusted company insert substances in their products that could cause us harm?
Many people do not know what these derivatives really consist of because with names like “mineral oil”, it seems as though a product might be made with minerals. Another misconception in today’s society is the use of terms such as “all natural” or “organic”. In recent years, Americans have become more concerned with general well-being and drawn to certain trends, some American consumers resolved to buy exclusively all-natural and organic products. All terms, immediately associated with good health, but just because a product claims to be “organic” or “all-natural” on the label does not necessarily mean that it does not contain hazardous chemicals. Arsenic is an all-natural substance found in minerals; that does not mean it would be safe to ingest. However, contrary to popular belief, high levels of arsenic can be detected in American rice and there are no regulations in the USA as to how much may be found in the grain. Surprisingly, the one country that does regulate the amount of arsenic allowed in rice, is China.
The requirements set by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program state that the food products portraying themselves as organic must have a percentage of at least ninety-five organic ingredients and cannot be made, grown or processed with any pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, synthetic ingredients, or bio chemistry, and cannot be produced or processed with irradiation meaning, a food product goes through a process using radiation in order to preserve the food. If a product has a percentage of seventy or more organic ingredients and is not produced with synthetic methods, it can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients” but the product cannot use the USDA organic seal. Products that do not qualify for the previous seals, can take advantage of a loophole. One option utilized by companies to get their food products certified as naturally grown and that certain companies also considered an easier and cheaper process would be to go through certification with the help of a non-profit organization sponsored program called Certified Naturally Grown. A product with the Certified Naturally Grown label on it indicates that a farmer has inspected the product and confirms the product was made using a natural process and ingredients. However, companies do not have to go through the process of maintaining these seals in order to put “natural” on the label of a product. The label will not have the Certified Naturally Grown or the USDA Certified Organic seal, but there are no requirements for using terms such as “all-natural” or “natural” on a products label because everything comes from something and is technically natural.
As a result of such, petroleum and other harmful chemicals can be used in virtually any merchandise (a company or organization wishes). Labels reveal the shocking truth of what popular snack foods contain and what consumers may have eaten their whole life. TBHQ, for instance, can be found in snack foods such as American Reese’s peanut butter cups, Butterfingers, Nestle Crunch, Little Debbie, CHEEZ-Its, M&M’s, numerous brands of (microwave) popcorn, and Wrigley’s gum. Other products that use TBHQ include the popular breakfast foods such as Pop Tarts, Wheat Thins, Kellogg’s frozen waffles, certain restaurant foods from McDonald’s, KFC, Red Robin, Olive Garden and Taco Bell, certain brands of cooking oil, certain brands of peanut butter, personal care products, pet foods, and much more.
Paraffinum liquidum (mineral oil) can be found in the popular gummy candies Swedish Fish and Life Savers, and the petroleum derivative can also be found in baby oil, moisturizers, makeup, and hair products. Parabens, are mainly found in makeup but companies also utilize them in toothpaste, tooth whitening, shampoo and conditioner and a number of styling gels and creams. Parabens and TBHQ are used as preservatives and Paraffinum Liquidum is mainly used as a film former and emollient but is also used as a cleaner and solvent for inks used in fine art printmaking. It can be used to cool electric components and as a lubricant and fuel. When companies use mineral oil in foods, they use the chemical as a glazing agent.
Companies use these chemicals to preserve foods because they cost less than the alternatives and to satisfy consumers wanting cheaper products, but what is the ultimate cost? Parabens have been shown in multiple studies to be oestrogenic meaning that parabens can effect female hormones in a negative way. Of course some people do believe that it has not been proven that parabens are the definitive cause of breast cancer, and that there are other harmful chemicals in products that could also be the cause. Dr. Phillipa Darbre, an associate professor at the school of biological sciences and a program adviser for biochemistry, who for around 26 years worked on the role of estrogen in breast cancer at the cellular level, claims “There are plenty of other chemicals in these pots [of cosmetics] apart from parabens which are also oestrogenic and we have to ask questions about additive effects. We are not exposed to a chemical, we are exposed to a mixture (Mellowship pg. 77).” This statement has truth in it, nevertheless, some types of parabens have been found in the breast tissue of women diagnosed with breast cancer including a high concentration of methyl-paraben which, along with n-propyl paraben, has been discovered in human urine. In a study conducted in Denmark, twenty-six volunteers in good health applied cosmetic creams containing the ingredient butyl-paraben all over their skin and the chemical was detected in their blood stream in one hour.
TBHQ, an antioxidant extracted from petroleum and the main ingredient in lighter fluid, can cause an array of health problems. According to reports from American citizens, the problems reported include, night terrors and anxiety, asthma, swollen lymph nodes, body rash, diarrhea, irritable bowl syndrome, and anaphylatic shock as well as some other serious problems. A toxic reaction may occur if only a gram of THBQ is ingested. The amount of TBHQ allowed in a product cannot exceed 0.02% of the fat and oil in the food, (this includes any essential oil in the food).
ADHD has become increasingly more common in recent decades. Although reasons for this remain classified as unknown, perhaps the reason for this is that companies manufacturing their products do not want consumers to know that those items contain the possible cause. The Feingold Association has executed research and have discovered that the use of more than one additive at one time has a synergistic interaction and damages nerve cells. The Feingold Association, which researches the connection between a child’s diet and any disorders the child may have, recommends removing additives and food colorings containing petroleum. Legal guardians that have followed the association’s suggestions report that their child’s symptoms have disappeared or significantly decreased. Another idea suggests that artificial additives act as counterfeit neurotransmitters admitting false excitable signals. Children possess a higher risk of developing negative affects from heavy metals due to processed foods consistently removing the calcium, iron and zinc which provide a child’s body with the ability to clear out heavy metals. A child has an inadequate amount of essential vitamins and minerals making processed foods a possible factor of aggressive behavior.
Petroleum derivatives, mainly parabens and mineral oil, can also cause various skin rashes and reactions. Contact dermatitis, is a type of skin inflammation that has symptoms comparable to those of eczema. According to statistics, five to nine percent of men have been affected by contact dermatitis and thirteen to fifteen percent of women have been affected. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when substances come into direct contact with a person’s skin causing inflammation and irritation; irritant contact dermatitis maintains the role of the most common type of contact dermatitis. It usually causes itching, swelling, oozing, dryness and crusting. A case of allergic contact dermatitis takes place when the immune system becomes provoked after repeated exposure to a substance causing an allergic reaction which could take place around two days after exposure. Contact urticaria takes place immediately after contact with an irritable substance, causing extremely itchy welts. Contact urticaria can be an irritant or an allergic reaction, be that as it may, an allergic reaction can follow an irritant reaction.
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Chronic cumulative irritancy occurs most of the time through repeated contact with mild cleansing agents such as detergents and soaps. Research that took place between 1972 and 1983 discovered that facial makeup, skin and hair care products caused the bulk of contact dermatitis reactions in the volunteers observed. The most common causes of contact dermatitis in the participants studied in order were fragrances and parabens.
Due to the fact that petroleum products stand as such harmful chemicals, several countries including Norway, Finland, Australia and France have all set laws banning at least one type of petroleum based food coloring. Most certified food colorings possess petroleum bases; the differences between American foods that contain food coloring and European foods that use healthier options are drastic. The Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) is a non-profit group that specializes in innovative research on health and nutrition to equip consumers with valuable information about health and well being. The CSPI organization took a trip to Britain in 2008 and unearthed the variations of food coloring use. CSPI discovered that a McDonald’s strawberry sundae receives its color from strawberries in Europe, whereas in America the sundae gets its color from red dye number forty. They also discovered that the European Fanta orange soda, unlike the American version which gets its color from the dyes yellow number six and red number forty, gets its orange hue from pumpkin and carrot juice.
Barbara Brenner, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, an education and advocacy organization working to cure breast cancer, said “I think it would be really interesting for people in the U.S. to learn what is being done in Europe. Because, here in America, there is something that amounts to hubris. To the extent that short-term profits are valued over life, there is a tragic flaw. Capitalism is killing us. The truth is that making our products safer is really in industry’s interest, because the people who use the products would live longer, but nobody is taking a long term view (Schwartz-Nobel, 117).”
The well-known cosmetics company Avon, claims to be involved in breast cancer research. It seems like a conflict of interest for cosmetic companies to be involved in the breast cancer field considering the chemicals they use, nevertheless, it seems to be a popular marketing strategy. Avon, like many other cosmetic companies, uses dangerous and untrusted chemicals and has continued to do so since 1886. Pharmaceutical companies that also use harmful chemicals, perform breast cancer research as well. But to actually discover a cure or learn how to prevent the disease would be against their financial interest. The same people that make a living treating these illnesses fund many of the health advocacy movements as well.
The previously mentioned organization Breast Cancer Action decided to try and have Avon remove some of the harsh additives from their makeup, specifically parabens. Eighty-two of Avon’s products contain parabens. After purchasing one share of Avon and becoming a share holder, Breast Cancer Action approached three larger share holders and convinced them to hold a shareholder resolution requesting Avon to remove parabens completely from their products or using a nonestrogenic substitute. Avon replied soon after their request saying, “We believe that discontinuation of the use of parabens and replacement with an inferior preservative would present a potential health risk to our consumers that is neither necessary nor warranted (Schwartz-Nobel, 118).” This statement from the board of directors at Avon persuaded the other shareholders to vote against the proposal to remove parabens.
The company Avalon, which markets the Alba, Avalon Organics, and UN-Petroleum brands of personal care products, went through a difficult but altogether rewarding process complying with the campaign for safe cosmetics toxic free pledge. They called this newly found objective, “consciousness in cosmetics”. Under new ownership at the time, the company struggled at the start. Morris Shriftman, senior vice president of marketing for Avalon, asked himself this question, “What do you do when you learn about something that can be dangerous, problematic and expensive? We had a rude awakening (Baker, 97).” After removing any additives that the European government has banned, the company’s next step was eliminating any non renewable petroleum based ingredients. He goes on to say that, “We found a deeper value in what we do. And the world of consciousness in cosmetics has been very good from a business point of view (Baker, 98).” The company’s sales skyrocketed up to forty million dollars. When the company announced it was being taken over by Hain Celestial group, a natural and organic food and personal care conglomerate, for twenty million dollars in 2006, Shriftman and his partners proved that even if cosmetic companies do not realize it, these companies gain no finances by using hazardous additives in their merchandise. And, that taking these chemicals out of products provides ethical as well as financial returns.
On some occasions companies list petroleum products on the label, but companies only have to list an ingredient if it qualifies as a major allergen and companies do not have to declare ingredients that do not qualify as major allergens. Therefore, many companies that do not list all the ingredients used in their products for marketing purposes, hope that the potential customers that know the dangers of consuming petroleum will at least not know that their products contain it. Consumers must educate themselves on different chemicals, which products contain those chemicals, and whether the foods and products being used by them are truly safe.
The consistent use of petroleum in foods and personal care products causes Americans various health issues such as anxiety and ADHD, skin irritations, reactions, rashes and cancer. Research proves that companies that have cut out petroleum derivatives from their products have an increased profit margin, yet most companies still ignore the fact that there is no long term value in using petroleum in food, makeup or personal care products as well. The American government’s job is to protect the United States of America from all threats foreign and domestic; several organizations have proven that petroleum is a threat to society when consumed or applied to the skin. America should follow the example of other countries and should ban petroleum in food and skin products. At the very least, it should be law for companies to list specifically all added ingredients so that consumers have a choice as to what they use and consume every day.
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