Someone recently told me to avoid mineral oil in beauty products, especially lotion. Looking into it online, I could not find a solid answer as to whether it is harmful for your skin. Learning about how it is produced makes me feel like I want to avoid it though, but thought I’d ask you. Any insights? Thanks!
Oooooooh, I am excited to answer this question! Making sure I use quality products with safe ingredients is something really important to me, and I feel like it’s something many people in our local area of Whatcom/Skagit County are thinking a lot about right now. There is a lot that goes into understand mineral oil and it’s place in makeup products, so bare with me as I dive deep to talk about how it’s made, how it’s used, and what you may or may not need to think about when selecting products with mineral oil.
What is mineral oil and how is it produced?
This is probably the singular, most important thing to understand when it comes to learning about mineral oil. There are 3 kinds of mineral oils out there: 1. paraffinic oils, 2. naphthenic oils, and 3. aromatic oils. The type of alkanes (organic compounds that consist entirely of single-bonded carbon and hydrogen) in the oil determines which class the mineral oil falls under. All 3 have different chemical makeups and uses; paraffinic mineral oil is what is used in cosmetics and personal products (makeup, lotions, etc) and it is derived from petroleum (fossil fuel).
Mineral oil derived from petroleum is made by the residue of plant and animal life (plankton and algae) after it has been exposed to extremely high pressure and temperature deep within the Earth’s crust. Once taken out from the ground, it needs to be purified and refined. This is the process where the mineral oil, it’s class, and uses will change. How it’s made is actually what makes it safe to use on skin! While other classes of mineral oil are refined, such as what we use in cars and for household purposes, it is still has carcinogenics that you would not want to put on your skin. However, paraffinic mineral oil is so extensively refined and purified that there is hardly anything left of the original oil/compound at the end of the process. What IS left is a clear, odorless liquid with high moisturization and healing properties – very different from the other mineral oils used for industrial purposes. This concept may make sense to some of us but may be scary to others. If it scares you, think of it this way: plant extracts such as aloe, witch hazel, rosewater and a TON more are all common ingredients in our cosmetic products. But nearly all oils derived from plants also need to be dramatically refined/purified before being considered safe for the skin. It’s the exact same concept and process and both are taken from compounds of the earth.
The biggest myth about mineral oil
The “natural” movement in cosmetics, food, and just about everything is sweeping the nation right now. And for good reason! In our strides through modern technology we’ve created a lot of man-made, modified compounds that have substituted natural ingredients across the board and we have done this to the detriment of quality and safety. But with that movement has come 2 major flaws; 1. fear-mongering from those with environmental political agendas, and 2. misrepresenting and misunderstanding key products/ingredients such as mineral oil and spreading mistruths about them. Couple that with our tendency to believe everything we hear or read on the internet because its out there so it must be true, rather than doing our own research, has done us and the industry an injustice. Most all arguments opposing mineral oil out there does not speak to the paraffinic oil used in cosmetics, but rather the lesser-purified naphthenic classification of mineral oil, which yes, is labeled toxic to humans. Significant research has shown however that paraffinic oils have no indication to be toxic or carcinogenic and have been deemed safe by the World Health Organization, the US and British Pharmacopeias, and the FDA (which regulates it’s purification).
One of the most common lies out there about cosmetic mineral oil is that is comodogenic (meaning it clogs pores). While this is true of other classes of mineral oil it is not true of paraffinic oil (again an example of why information out there is misleading about mineral oil in cosmetics – they’re basing their information off the wrong kind of oil). Scientific research time after time has proved paraffinic oil to be non-comodegenic, meaning your skin health won’t suffer by using it either.
This is all great, but why is mineral oil even in my cosmetics?
In addition to being colorless and odorless, paraffinic mineral oil does not oxidize. What does this mean? Well, when your open and begin using any makeup, lotion, or other personal care product, the second it is open it begins to react with the oxygen and it’s compound make up starts to change – the shelf life on your product starts to deteriorate. Oxidizing can cause your product to change smell, appearance, or even color (foundation colors will often change by the time you get to the bottom of the bottle because of this process). Because mineral oil does not oxidize, it is a safe, natural product that will stabilize the formula of your cosmetics so they can maintain their shelf-life. Another benefit is that mineral oil heals wounds quickly and for years has been considered to be one of the most effective moisturizing agents out there!
To sum it all up….
Paraffinic mineral oil used in cosmetics and personal products is COMPLETELY safe! With that said however, please use anything you put on your face and skin with discretion. While it has been proved to be safe for general public use, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to have an allergic reaction. Every person’s skin is different and so if you think you may have an allergy to mineral oil, discontinue using it immediately. But I hope for the rest of you that this helps you feel safer and confident in continuing to use it in your personal care items!
*Have a question you’d like answered? Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Cosmetics & Toiletries, February 1998, pages 33–40
Journal of Dermatologic Science, May 2008, pages 135–142