Is Using Petrochemicals in Cosmetics a new thing?

Since the beginning of time, humankind has harnessed natures power to produce a wide range of body products, from the medicinal - (think lavender & thyme - herbs used to treat wounds) - to the exotic (think Cleopatras baths of milk and rose-petals). The Egyptians never went anywhere without their eyeliner! The fact is, since the dawn of time, humans have always turned to nature for any of our body care needs including cosmetic, healing and cleansing. 

Back to today and here we are - in the name of 'progress' using petrochemical-based products like paraffin & petroleum derivatives with which to cover our bodies and our homes - literally spraying that stuff around as if there were no tomorrow. Why? Because it's what we do. Everyones doing it. It is now the norm, and now we do this without thinking or questioning. But it wasn't always so. This is a relatively new development and we are just beginning to become aware of and acknowledge the consequences.  

Huge increases in Allergies and Cancer 

Is the fact of the collossol rates of childhood eczema, asthma and other allergies, as well as cancer in western populations - correllating with the increase in petrochemicals throughout our society just a coincidence? Could there be a link? Scientific studies show time and again that the ingredients in our cosmetics and household cleaning products contain known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) and other known hazardous ingredients, specifically skin irritants and allergens. Although we like to bundle the reasons for this into a generalised wishy washy heap called 'lifestyle factors' (currently our eating is getting all the blame for our illnesses and ailments) it doesn't take an Einstein to work this out. 

Why Did We Change From Natural Products to Petrochemicals?

So how did this come about? Just over 100 years ago, in the early 1900s, we were still pretty much 'making our own' cosmetics. Around this time the middle classes began buying their 'cold cream' in little pots sold by small apothecary shops and dispensing chemists, rather than making it themselves at home. These chemists would provide 'ladies' with small batches of 'homemade' face creams made from nut oils, water and floral essences. The problem was - these 'preparations' would not keep for very long as sometimes the oils (primarily almond oil) would go rancid. At the same time, with the growing popularity of the motor car, the petrochemical oil industry was experiencing its first boon. 

    Dagget - First to produce cold cream on an industrial scale.  

Daggett of 'Daggett & Ramsdell'            

A young chemist called Dagget tried formulating a 'cold cream' by swapping out the almond oil for petroleum jelly (a by-product of petrol production). He soon realised that along with the addition of 'borax' to the formula, this change increased the shelf life of the cream. Dagget was by no means the first to use this method, but he along with his business partner Ramsdell were the first to do it on an industrial scale. It was circa 1893 and Voila! The petro/cosmetic revolution was born. The idea that petrochemical based creams were somehow 'better for us' than botanical ones was suddenly the story of the day. Very little has changed since then, we have unquestioningly continued to formulate petrochemical based bodycare ever since. 


Perfect Cold Cream - 'the kind that keeps'

They began to produce ever more variations of its products (as well as the marketing sophistry to go with it), all garnered to ensure women felt the 'need' to use a whole range of products to 'keep their complexions youthful'. Daggett and Ramsdell were soon followed in the market by 'Ponds' famous cold cream which soon became the market leader. Both companies are still very much alive and kicking today, although the original 'Daggett & Ramsdell' brand has changed hands many times, eventually owned by 'Fisk Industries' and still trading today.


Above: 1908 Daggett & Ramsdell Massage Lesson No. 3 for the 'removal of lines and crow’s feet beneath the eyes'

Very little has changed from those days. Here is what their products looked like just a few short years later - an uncanny resemblance to some of our high-end 'retro-styled' products today!

Dagget and Ramsells Product Lines circa 1934  following 'rebranding' !

Dagget & Ramsells Skincare Products Circa 1934

So the real question now is - if shelf life was the only major reason for not using natural ingredients - is it so inconceivable for us to return to using primarily natural products? Especially given what we now know about the damaging effects of long-term use of petro-cosmetics,  and now that we have better and safer way of preserving and producing the natural ones. Is it time we went back to our former normality of using plant based ingredients? Only you can decide. 

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Read the full 'Daggett & Ramsdell' story here!