10 Surprising and Unexpected Uses of Oil

The main use of petroleum wouldn’t surprise you at all. About 50 percent of the oil we use goes into making gasoline. In fact, about 70 percent is used for transportation in general. But oil and its byproducts also go into making a whole host of other products that you might not expect. Let’s look at the 10 most surprising.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Sports equipment

Sports today wouldn’t be the same without petroleum. Modern golf balls, golf bags, footballs, football cleats, artificial turf, basketballs, tennis rackets, skis, soccer balls — they’re all made, in part, with petroleum in one form or another.

2. Chewing gum

That’s right. Sorry if you just spit your chewing gum out in surprise, but yes, it contains petroleum. Ever wonder where that soft, chewy quality comes from? Partially from oil. Most gum wrappers just mention a “gum base” when listing ingredients. That base includes waxes, petroleum, stearic acid, glycerin, lanolin and other components. So the next time you stop at the gas station to fill up and grab a pack of gum, now you know that you and your car are enjoying a similar fossil-fuel-based treat.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Lipstick

Pucker up — lots of lipsticks are made with petroleum. Paraffin wax is often used to give tube lipsticks their shape and help provide smooth application. Paraffin wax is a white or colorless soft solid derivable frompetroleum, coal, or shale. Lipsticks are not alone in their use of petroleum-based paraffin wax — a long list of products including candles, candy coatings, and paintballs all use it.

4. Dentures

Grandpa’s dentures just got a little creepier. Modern dentures use carbon-based dyes for their pigmentation. The dyes are often manufactured using coal, petroleum, and vegetable resources. These dyes are FDA approved and can be similar to food colorings found in your kitchen. But if you have to choose between keeping your gums a healthy pink by flossing or by getting a fake set colored with fossil fuels, go with flossing.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

5. Toothpaste

After reading the previous item on the list, you’ve decided to double down on your oral care. Guess what? Toothpaste manufacturers often triple down on their use of petroleum. Poloxamer 407, derived from petroleum, is a substance that allows oil-based ingredients to be dissolved in a water-based solution. Toothpaste also uses dyes made from petroleum — D&C Yellow #10, D&C Red #30, and FD&C Blue #1 are all produced from petroleum or coal sources.

6. Guitar strings 

Most modern guitar strings are made of nylon, which is made from petroleum. Fun fact: Nylon was first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont’s research facility. Carothers was searching for a silk replacement, which had grown scarce during wartime.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

7. Deodorant and antiperspirants

Apparently the two major things many of us do to smell good both involve spraying or rubbing fossil fuel onto parts of our body. Like perfume and cologne, deodorants and antiperspirants commonly use propylene glycol. The petroleum-based material is a cheap way to soften products and make application easier.

8. Perfume and cologne

Synthetic chemicals like petroleum are often used by perfume and cologne manufacturers to “bring out lasting scents and cut down on expenses.” The petroleum locks moisture, along with the scent, onto the skin. Perfumes aren’t alone in using petroleum-based propylene glycol — it can be found in many other products like antifreeze, shampoo, and paint, to name a few. Warning: Just because they all contain petroleum, they are not interchangeable. Shampoo will not keep your pipes from freezing and paint is not going to get your hair clean.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

9. Contact lenses

The synthetic polymers that make soft contacts malleable and comfortable to wear are made with petroleum. These polymers also allow oxygen to permeate the lens, a critical function for the wearability of contact lenses.

10. Fishing lures

Fishing as many people know it would be very different without petroleum. Petroleum plays a part in almost every aspect of fishing — the lures, the poles, life vests, fishing boats, and ice chests to keep your fish (and/or beer) cold. Even that terrible nylon hat with the lures attached to it is made from petroleum.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on the topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: