Stop Freaking Out About Mineral Oil

I recently discovered one of my favourite skin care brands uses mineral oil in its products. Despite never doing any personal research, I...

Stop Freaking Out About Mineral Oil

I recently discovered one of my favourite skin care brands uses mineral oil in its products. Despite never doing any personal research, I'd automatically assumed mineral oil was the equivalent of the skin care devil because well, Caroline Hirons said so. More fool me, turns out mineral oil isn't so bad after all.


Mineral oil is not, by default, bad for you or your skin. It's true mineral oil is a cheap ingredient, often used as a "filler" in place of more expensive ingredients. It's also fragrance free, colourless, doesn't oxidize and can easily be kept for a long time. For those reasons it frequently appears in many cosmetic products, however, is vilified under the assumption that it is man-made therefore toxic and cheap therefore poor quality.

Mineral oil is derived from crude oil, which originates from biological material (algae and plankton) buried underground and transformed by pressure over millions of years into carbon-containing compounds to make crude oil. It's then refined into different products including paraffin wax, gasoline, asphalt, and mineral oil, which are all vastly different from each other; while crude oil may contain carcinogenic properties, careful refining makes cosmetic grade mineral oil perfectly fine for human use.

There is a widespread misconception that "natural = good" and "man-made = toxic" which is simply wrong (and rather dangerous). Every chemical whether it's man-made or natural should be assessed based on its own merits.

Mineral oil has been accused of causing spots and aggravating acne, it's been blamed for stopping the skin from "breathing" and vilified for being a made-made "toxic" substance. These opinions were formed by studies in the 1970s, often spread by "natural" based cosmetic companies, internet consumer sites, and environmental groups who claim petrolatum and mineral oil cause harm to the skin by forming an occlusive oil film that "suffocates" it.

In 2005 a study discovered mineral oil does not cause breakouts on the face as was previously thought. This research debunked the myth derived from studies in the 1970s that put mineral oil on the comedogenic substances list. This research was carried out on the ears of rabbits who, unsurprisingly, react very differently to substances than we do and are much more prone to comedogenicity than humans. More recent studies have found products containing between 0 and 30% mineral oil are not comedogenic on human skin and even applying 100% mineral oil onto skin won't cause acne.

In regards to mineral oil "suffocating" the skin and preventing it from "breathing," this claim defies human biology. Mineral oil reduces transepidermal water loss by 40% and is equally as occlusive as coconut oil (preventing water loss and retaining moisture), yet does not induce acne. It also inhibits excessive inflammatory activity and has been documented to have anticarcinogenic and mild antibacterial effects.

For those who react negatively to mineral oil, it's important to remember it's possible for even the safest known ingredients to cause a negative reaction - even purified water. It's more likely a combination of ingredients causing your breakout than mineral oil alone, and most likely has nothing to do with mineral oil at all. There are much more likely culprits causing aggravation and acne in your beauty products than mineral oil. If you're concerned about mineral oil clogging pores (which, by the way, it can't since it cannot penetrate the skin far enough), only use products that are meant to be washed off after use and avoid moisturisers with a high content of mineral oil.

Assuming plant-based products are intrinsically better simply because they are "natural" is dangerous. Plant oils often have poorer safety profiles than mineral oils making them toxic and even harmful, they may also contain carcinogenic substances in unprocessed oils.

I think there are very few of us who can identify every item on a product's ingredients list so why do we automatically blame mineral oil when we break out? What we all need to realise is it's the combination and quantities of a product's ingredients that is most important. It could be any one of the many ingredients in a formula, or even a particular combination causing problems. There is significant evidence to show mineral oil is harmless and can even play a beneficial role in skin care routines, so quit freaking out about it.

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