Is mineral oil bad for your skin?

Is mineral oil bad for your skin?

Discussions on whether mineral oil is bad for the skin has been bugging me. Some say it can block pores and cause acne while others say it’s harmless. It’s a very common ingredient in cosmetics so it’s worth knowing if it’s something that’s bad for us.

It doesn’t help that the cosmetics industry is full of claims and inaccuracies, and probably none more so than in the area of mineral oil in cosmetics and skincare. 

I have condensed all the key points for you in this article so that you can decide whether mineral oil is an ingredient you want in your skincare or not. 

What is the mineral oil in cosmetics (specifically skincare)?

Mineral oil is a refined, petroleum-derived liquid chemical that is colourless and odourless. It is similar, but not the same as petroleum jelly i.e. the main ingredient in Vaseline. 

As it’s a large molecule, it has limited penetration and instead sits on top of the skin, what’s known as an occlusive ingredient.

In skincare, mineral oil is used as an emollient and it provides “softening” for the skin. Mineral oil does not contain any moisture, so does not moisturise the skin but puts a barrier over it to stop water loss.

What does science say about mineral oil in cosmetics?

The job of mineral oil in skincare is to provide a soft texture feeling on the skin while trapping existing moisture in the skin to prevent it from escaping.  

This trait, however, has some consequences for our skin

  • The mineral oil itself doesn’t benefit the skin and it is only providing an occlusive layer on top of the skin like a cling wrap on top of food. Mineral oil itself does not help with our skin’s underlying issues such as pigmentation, ageing or texture. 
  • Shockingly, studies have found small amounts of mineral oil in breast milk! Since the most common use of mineral oil is in skincare and not in food, it is suspected that it gets into the body through years of using skincare containing mineral oil. The absorption is unintentional and this is the fact that scares me the post.
    * Noti A, Grob K, Biedermann M, et al. Exposure of babies to C(15)-C(45) mineral paraffins from human milk and breast salves. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2003;38:317–25. PubMed
  • It is a myth that mineral oil clogs the skin’s pores. Its job is to form a barrier that stops the skin from breathing, as it is supposed to do. In the short-term it would feel soft and silky, but long-term usage of mineral-oil based skincare products will lead to unhealthy skin.
  • Anecdotally, all the dermatologists I spoke to agree that if you have acne-prone or notice more blackheads or whiteheads after using mineral oil-rich products, skip this ingredient.

If you want to learn more about mineral oil, I found this Byrdie article on Mineral Oils very helpful.

What I chose to do:

Having reviewed a lot of evidence relating to mineral oil in skincare, I have decided that I do not want to have mineral oil in my skincare. I have acne-prone skin and I don’t want it to block my pores and there are a lot of alternatives to products that have mineral oil.  

There are a huge array of plant oils (like Argan Oil or Rosehip Oil) that when it is absorbed into the body it will not cause harm and these oils have lots of vitamins and antioxidants that are beneficial for our skin.  

While the alarm bells are there, I will not be throwing away opened skincare that has mineral oil. However, I will not be buying products with mineral oils in. 

What are your preference for using products with mineral oil? 

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