Mineral oil is an ingredient used in many skincare products including lotions and cosmetics but there’s a lot of confusion about whether or not it’s actually good for you. It’s rumored to contain cancer-causing chemicals, clog up your pores, dry out your skin, and cause acne and premature aging.
Curious to learn more about the buzzed about oil, we turned to two experts to answer all of our pressing mineral oil-related questions, debunk the myths, and give us a definite answer to the question: Is mineral oil good or bad? Keep scrolling to find the answer.
So first things first, what is mineral oil?
Contrary to what you may have read on the internet, mineral oil is not made from the same petroleum that makes cars run. That would be scary. “Mineral oil is distilled from crude oil used to make gasoline and other petroleum products,” explains Beverly Hills dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann, MD. “It goes through an extensive purification and modification process which removes impurities, potential harmful chemicals, and leaves it colorless and odorless.”
Interestingly enough, mineral oil actually originates from rock and sand hence why it’s called “mineral” oil. “Crude oil, from which mineral oil is derived, results from fossilization of organic materials,” Herrmann explains. “Historically, it was used in religious rituals and as an oil for massage.”
There are a few different reasons why it’s so popular. “It’s not difficult to produce,” Herrmann says. “It’s inexpensive, and because it’s a byproduct from gasoline manufacturing, there is an abundance of it.” This explains why it’s used in so many skincare products, most commonly found in facial cleanser, hand soap and even shaving cream.
So is mineral oil safe to use?
The short answer: yes. “Mineral oil has a well known safety profile and a long history of use,” says cosmetics technical manager Kelly Dobos. “In fact, it is the base of baby oil.”
And the myth that mineral oil can cause cancer? Totally not true. (Cue sigh of relief.) “Purified mineral oil is considered safe because the distillation process removes harmful chemicals, some of which are considered carcinogenic or cancer causing,” Herrmann explains. “To date, there is no good evidence that purified mineral oil used in skincare products is harmful.” So rest assured, there’s no reason to fear mineral oil.
What are the benefits of using mineral oil?
In addition to being inexpensive and easy to make, the other reason why mineral oil is such a popular ingredient in skincare products is because it helps keep your skin nice and hydrated. “Mineral oil is a great occlusive moisturizer which helps lock in hydration,” Dobos says. And hydrated skin prevents skin water loss, Herrmann adds, which keeps your skin looking youthful. So no, mineral oil will not contribute to premature aging. There’s another myth debunked.
Mineral oil is also good if you have sensitive skin. “Because it’s derived from rock, it doesn’t contain potential plant allergens that other oils (such as coconut, sandalwood, lavender, etc.) may contain making it an excellent choice for patients with conditions like eczema or rosacea,” Herrmann says.
And just because mineral oil is affordable, that doesn’t mean it’s not as good as its more expensive competitors. You can of course opt for more natural oils. But, Dobos says, “They tend to cost more and can go rancid breaking down into potentially irritant compounds.” In other words, mineral oil gives you more bang for your buck and saves your skin from irritants. That’s what we call a good deal.
Does mineral oil cause any side effects?
One of the downfalls of mineral oil is that it can feel a bit greasy when you apply it, although it’s not quite as greasy as traditional petrolatum (aka Vaseline). But besides that, it doesn’t cause any scary side effects.
Some say that it can make acne worse, but Herrmann says, at least one study has shown that mineral oil in its purified form is non-comedogenic which means it doesn’t clog pores. That said, there is a such thing as too much of a good thing. “Using it too often can block pores and may exacerbate acne in some where occlusion prevents the natural exfoliation process.” So although mineral is good for your skin, don’t go overboard with it either.
Another mineral oil myth is that it robs the skin of vitamins, but this is also not true. “There is no scientific basis for this,” Herrmann says. “Oils haven’t been shown to change vitamin content of the skin. If someone is severely vitamin deficient, they may develop a rash on the hands and feet, but mineral oil would only act to help repair the skin barrier and prevent skin water loss.”
What is the best way to use mineral oil?
There are a few ways you can get your dose of mineral oil. “It is most often emulsified in creams and lotions to provide hydration,” Dobos says. “It can also be used straight from the bottle to treat dry skin or diaper rashes for babies.”
That said, if you’re someone who is blessed with naturally moisturized skin (lucky you), mineral oil may just be too heavy for your skin, Herrmann says. In that case, opt for a lighter lotion. “For those looking for a moisturizing agent that contains other skin benefits like antioxidants or stress-relieving aromatics, a plant-derived oil may be a more desired choice,” she adds.
Mineral oil is also good for your hair. “It can help lock in moisture keeping the hair cuticle stronger and less likely to be susceptible to other environmental irritants and allergens,” Herrmann says. Don’t be afraid to apply some to your strands too.
So there you have it. Don’t believe the rumors. Mineral oils is a good ingredient for you and your skin. Just be sure you always go for cosmetic-grade, highly refined mineral oil. You’ll know it’s good quality if it’s colorless and odorless, Herrmann says. If it’s not, that might be a red flag that the mineral oil is contaminated or poorly refined.
If you are experiencing dry dull skin, consider supplementing with hyaluronic acid that can really help to retain moisture and boost hydration from within and give plump, hydrated and radiant skin.
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