Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHS)
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of several hundred chemically related hydrophobic compounds, can be derived from natural or anthropogenic sources like forest fires, volcanoes eruption, man-made incomplete combustion of organic materials such as coal, wood, and petroleum or automotive emissions and smoking.
Where are Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons found?
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be found in both natural and anthropogenic sources. PAHs have diverse uses, ranging from fuels to pesticides, plastics to drugs and food preservatives. In addition to their use as a source of energy, PAHs are also released into the environment through combustion processes such as bio-oil production and forest fires.
PAHs and Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly, also known as petrolatum, is a by-product of the petroleum refining process. It is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons with an oily texture and is used in a variety of applications including lubricants, adhesives, sealants, and cosmetics.
Petroleum jelly that has not been properly refined is known to contain high levels of PAHs. The European Union has banned the use of petroleum jelly in cosmetics, but it is still used in the United States.
How Can You Be Exposed to PAHs?
The most common sources of exposure to PAHs are tobacco smoke, food, and petroleum products.
PAHs are found in cigarette smoke due to the incomplete combustion of tobacco. The burning of coal or oil for residential heating and power can also result in emission of PAHs into the air from chimneys.
PAHs are present in some foods because they may be produced during high-temperature cooking processes such as frying; grilled or smoked meats; or grilling fish over wood, coals, or other organic matter. Some types of seafood and fish can contain high levels of PAHs due to their diet.
PAHs can enter the body through inhalation (breathing), ingestion (eating), or skin contact (touching). For example, you may have been exposed to PAHs through smoking cigarettes and/or eating contaminated foods that had been cooked using charcoal or open flames at high temperatures. You may also have been exposed to PAHs if you live near a hazardous waste site where petroleum was processed, stored, or handled; if you work with asphalt pavement materials; or if you use oil-based paints on your house’s siding, flooring, or furniture.
What Are The Risks Associated with PAH Exposure?
There are risks associated with both long and short term exposure to PAHs including:
Long Term Exposure
There is strong evidence that exposure to PAHs can increase the risk for lung, bladder, and skin cancer. Animal studies have also shown that PAHs can damage the lungs, liver, and reproductive organs.
Short Term Exposure
Exposure to high levels of PAHs can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also result in headaches, dizziness, and nausea. In addition, exposure to PAHs has been linked to an increased risk of asthma.
Are Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Safe?
In short, No, PAHs are not considered safe. Here are how the tops names in the safety industry weigh in:
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified some PAHs as probable human carcinogens.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified several PAHs as Group 1 carcinogens, meaning that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans.
- 16 PAHs have been identified as priority pollutants by the EPA
- The following PAHs are considered “prohibited substances” in cosmetics: Benzo[a]anthracene(BaA), Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), Benzo[b]fluoranthene (BbFL), Benzo[e]pyrene (BeP), Benzo[k]fluoranthene (BkFL), Benzo[j]fluoranthene (BjFL), Chrysene (Chr), and Dibenzo[a,h]anthracene (DBA)
All said, PAHs are dangerous to your health and should be avoided. So do your due diligence and make sure to check your cosmetics for any of the dirty ingredients we’ve listed in this post.
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Ingredient Breakdown: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHS) was originally published in Think Dirty on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.