Photo by Brigitte Sire

What’s Up With Petroleum in Beauty Products?

The beauty and personal care industry is shockingly unregulated—the products we often think of for self-care are actually loaded with hidden toxins—which is why goop as a brand (and as a bunch of living breathing people) is so devoted to clean, non-toxic beauty. For our GOOP CLEAN BEAUTY book, we interviewed Karen Behnke—founder of the brilliant and totally non-toxic Juice Beauty—on the matter, including how to navigate the health dangers of petroleum in products (see below). Get the book to learn more from Behnke, and see here for GP’s favorite, everyday (obviously petroleum-free) Juice Beauty makeup essentials.

A Sneak-Peek Q&A with Karen Behnke


How pervasive is petroleum in beauty products, and why is it problematic? What’s the work-around for Juice Beauty?


Petrochemicals are incredibly pervasive in beauty products; so many common ingredients are derived from them. A huge health concern with petroleum products is that they can generate 1,4-dioxane, a substance known to potentially contribute to some cancers. It’s also a kidney toxin, neurotoxin, and a respiratory toxin, not to mention a leading groundwater contaminant. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that an alarming 22 percent of all conventional personal care products contain unsafe levels of 1,4-dioxane. EWG also found that “these trace contaminants in petroleum-based ingredients often readily penetrate the skin…and their presence in products is not restricted by government safety standards.”

Some of the common ingredients in beauty products that are petrochemical-derived include:

  • Parafin wax

  • Mineral oil

  • Toluene

  • Benzene

  • Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol)

  • Anything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine)

  • Butanol and any word with butyl: butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol

  • EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid)

  • Any word with propyl—isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine

  • Parfum or fragrance—95 percent of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum. This one word can contain many, many chemicals that don’t need to be listed and are likely endocrine disrupters.