What Is Mineral Oil?
Mineral oil in skincare and cosmetic formulations has always been met with controversy. The controversy around this ingredient mainly focuses on where it is derived and anecdotal evidence that it clogs pores.
Mineral oil uses an odorless, colorless ingredient derived from petrolatum. It is highly purified and doesn’t contain the impurities that petroleum is known for. The fact that it is derived from petroleum has often been met with resistance, particularly from the clean or green beauty industry. Despite this mineral oil is considered to be safe for use in its current concentations and applications.
Mineral oil is a large molecule meaning that it doesn’t penetrate the skin and instead acts as a barrier on the surface of the skin. This protective nature helps to prevent moisture loss from the skin to the air and environment and can be beneficial to dry and sensitized skin.
The controversy around this ingredient can lead to a lot of confusion on behalf of the consumer. If mineral oil is so bad for skincare, then why is it so widely used? such as in moisturizer, ointments, eye creams, and makeup. These are great questions to ask, we will discuss the benefits and myths around this ingredient below.
the good: Helps to lock in moisture, support skin barrier function and make the skin feel soft.
the not so good: Mineral oil has been linked to the clogging of pores. While mineral oil itself doesn’t clog the pores it can trap dead skin cells, sweat and other skincare ingredients in the pores. This is why it is generally recommended for drier skin types rather than congested skin.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients.
Keep an eye on: Keep an eye out for more research into this ingredient.
How is Mineral Oil Made?
Before it’s used for skin care, mineral oil has to be refined from petroleum. During this manufacturing process there are several purities of this oil that can be created, with some being used for industrial applications, while the purest versions of mineral oil are used in skin care products.
Why Is Mineral Oil Used in Skin Care?
Mineral oil acts as a protective barrier on the skin, forming a thin coating on the surface. This protective characteristic helps to prevent water loss and protect the skin from allergens and bacteria. Mineral oil mimics the skin’s natural barrier function which is usually provided by the first few layers of skin and the natural oils that the skin produces. However, as we age the natural oil production decreases leaving the skin feeling drier and less able to prevent moisture loss, mineral oil helps to compensate for that change. Skin barrier health is vital to the overall health of the skin and disruption of the skin barrier has been linked with eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
Mineral oil is a common ingredient in skincare products because of its ability to prevent moisture loss. It’s an interesting ingredient because it doesn’t have many other benefits. Unlike other ingredients such as antioxidants or humectants, it doesn’t provide any other benefits to the skin other than protection.
However, this simplicity may lead some to under-appreciate the benefits of mineral oil for skin. Certainly, it may not have antioxidants or skin brightening properties, but prevention of moisture loss is a helpful property. This is especially true for individuals who live in harsh environments with very cold, dry weather. In such cases, the benefits of other ingredients and mineral oil can be very helpful for skin.
Mineral oil also helps to improve the texture of products. While this is mostly a sensory effect it can help to ensure that your product’s key ingredients are spread evenly and smoothly on the skin. This smooth application prevents the product from catching on dry patches or texture, reducing the effectiveness of the product and requiring you to use more.
Lastly, it’s important to note that skin care companies use mineral oil in skin care applications because of its low cost. By avoiding more expensive alternatives to this ingredient, the consumer has access to more low cost skin care products.
What Types Of Skincare Products Contain Mineral Oil?
Mineral oil is formulated into many skincare products, including sunscreen, diaper cream, lip gloss, undereye cream, and deodorants, among others. It’s low cost and wide availability make it a popular ingredient with many manufacturers, who sometimes refer to it as liquid paraffin.
Is Mineral Oil Linked to Cancer?
There have been claims made as to whether mineral oil can cause cancer when used in skincare products. Unfortunately, misinformation about this ingredient has led to a barrage of articles on skin care blogs about how this ingredient is a potential carcinogen.
However, mineral oil for skin care purposes is a different type of purity than industrial grade mineral oil. It all has to do with the refining process and the purity that is achieved during manufacturing. The oil that is refined for inclusion in skincare products is purer and is not believed to contain carcinogens.
The only time mineral oil that was derived for skin care purposes could have dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals is if there was an error in the manufacturing process, leading to impurities. However, the manufacturing process is highly regulated to avoid contamination.
Does Mineral Oil Clog Pores?
Another common concern with mineral oil in skin care is whether it can clog pores, thereby contributing to breakouts and congestion. While mineral oil itself does not cause clogging it does trap other ingredients, sweat, and dead skin cells closer to the skin. This can cause them to fill the pores and create clogged pores. Generally it’s recommended that congested skin types avoid mineral oil for this reason.
Is Mineral Oil Vegan?
Mineral oil is considered a vegan ingredient as it is derived from petroleum and not animal based products. Mineral oil has been certified as a vegan ingredient by the American Vegetarian Association.
Side Effects of Mineral Oil for Skin Care
Though mineral oil may seem to be relatively benign in skincare applications, it’s important to note that some studies point to potential side effects. For example, one of the concerns with this chemical is the potential for bioaccumulation or accumulation of the ingredient in the body.
Although its molecules are typically too large to penetrate the skin, regular use of products with this ingredient can cause the molecules to accumulate in the body due to penetration through broken skin or because of use in lip balms.
As of yet, there isn’t definitive information as to what long term effects this bioaccumulation can have. However, some studies suggest that large quantities of mineral oil in the skin can lead to allergic reactions and/or toxicity of the immune system. The quantities investigated in these studies are much higher than would be absorbed through the skin from a product containing mineral oil.
Rawlings, A & Lombard, K, 2012. ‘A review in the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil’, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, vol.34, is. 6.
Petry, T, et al. 2017. ‘Review of data on the dermal penetration of mineral oils and waxes used in cosmetic applications’, Toxicology Letters, vol. 280, pp.70-78.
Kimakova, T, Poracova, J, Dopirakova, T & Blascakova, M, 2011. ‘Mineral Oils and Harmful Effects on Human and Animal Skin’, Epidemiology, vol. 22, is. 1.
Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 1986. ‘Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Petroleum Distillate’, Journal of the American College of Toxicology, vol. 5, no. 3.