Why is Mineral Oil Bad for Skin?
In the beauty and skin care world, we quite often see the words ‘mineral oil’ listed on product packaging and in articles, just like this one. It seems at odds, when so many articles (and the word on the street) talk about the downfalls of mineral oil, when it’s present in so many skin care products.
In this Article
What is Mineral Oil for Skin
How is Mineral Oil Produced
Is Mineral Oil Vegan
Why is Mineral Oil Used in Skincare
What Skincare Products Contain Mineral Oil
Why is Mineral Oil Considered a Risky Ingredient to Use on Certain Skin Types
Is Mineral Oil Ever Beneficial for the Skin
How Do I Use Mineral Oil
Avoiding Mineral Oil with Sönd
Usually found in many different types of moisturisers, mineral oil helps to add moisture back into dry skin. But with so much negative press, is it really that dangerous or harmful? Why is mineral oil bad for skin? Ever the investigators, we did some research to find out whether or not we should all be using, or avoiding, mineral oil.
What is Mineral Oil for Skin?
Mineral oil for skin is a type of oil, obviously, that’s colourless and odourless. So far, so bland.
But it’s when we realise where mineral oil comes from, that we begin to see how it might be less than beneficial for most skin types. Mineral oil for skin is a by-product of the petroleum industry. That is, the same industry that produces petrol, diesel and other industrial oils.
Mineral oil also goes by various other names including; paraffin oil, liquid petroleum, mineral paraffins and white mineral oil. Confusingly, these ingredients are all products in their own right, but can also be used to describe mineral oil.
They’re all from a group of chemicals called hydrocarbons. That is, chemicals that contain only atoms of hydrogen and carbon, to varying degrees. Vaseline is a classic hydrocarbon that’s used on the skin, and you’ll probably recognise its distinctive, slightly paraffin like smell.
How is Mineral Oil Produced?
In order for mineral oil to be made suitable for use on the skin, it needs to be extracted from petroleum.
This process of petroleum refining produces many different levels of oil purities - some are used in manufacturing and industry, and the most pure are used in skincare products. But even though mineral oil is ‘pure’, it’s far from kind to the skin.
Is Mineral Oil Vegan?
Yes, mineral oil is suitable for vegans and vegetarians as it comes directly from petroleum, rather than animal sources.
Why is Mineral Oil Used in Skincare?
Mineral oil and skin tend to go together for many skincare brands. As we know, mineral oils including paraffin wax and petroleum jelly (Vaseline) are used to help add moisture to the skin, and sit on the skin to retain moisture.
They’re popular because they have a low volatility (compared to other products of the petroleum industry) and because they’re very good at smoothing out the skin. (They’re also no doubt used because they’re very cheap compared to other types of moisturising agents).
Mineral oil and skin work because the oil helps to lock moisture into the skin. Products containing it can be particularly beneficial when used all over the body after a bath or shower to help prevent the skin from drying out.
What Skincare Products Contain Mineral Oil?
Browse any skincare aisle of any shop, physical or online, and it won’t be long before you find a product that contains mineral oil.
It’s found in everything from deodorant to sunscreen and under eye cream to lip gloss and body moisturiser. Facial moisturisers are also very commonly made using mineral oil.
Mineral oil is cheap, available and easy to use, which makes it a popular skincare ingredient.
Why is Mineral Oil Considered a Risky Ingredient to Use on Certain Skin Types?
So far, mineral oil and skincare sounds great, right? Cheap and effective, it can help keep the skin looking and feeling moisturised and healthy. But what does mineral oil do to your skin?
The very mechanism by which mineral oil works can prove to have negative consequences for some skin types. Mineral oil forms a barrier over the skin, making the skin feel like it’s been given a real treat from a luxurious product.
But in locking in moisture by forming this protective barrier, it can also have the unwanted side effect of blocking the pores. The molecular size of mineral oils are too large to penetrate the skin, since they’re derived from petroleum.
This means that they sit on the skin, making the skin feel good, but they cannot be absorbed by the skin. So not only can they clog the pores, they can ‘suffocate’ the skin, according to skin care specialist to the stars of Hollywood, Renée Rouleau.
She says that our moisturisers should always penetrate the skin, benefitting the lower layers of skin as well as the surface and upper layers. And we couldn't agree more. Mineral oils cannot do this, and they should therefore be avoided.
This is especially the case for anyone with oily skin. Oily skin types don't need extra oils hanging about on their skin. This doesn’t just add to their shine, but it can clog the pores, trapping dirt, oil, makeup and environmental pollutants. This build up can then lead to acne spots and breakouts, and the production of more oil to compensate for the trapped oil.
What about mineral oil and acne prone skin? Again, the blocked pore aspect is disastrous for acne prone skin.
Mineral oils are no good for anyone with irritated or sensitive skin types either. This is because trapping a layer of unwanted dirt and oil on top of irritated or sensitive skin is only going to make things worse.
Also, if your moisturiser isn’t getting to the lower layers of your skin, it won’t deliver any of the other ingredients either. So if your moisturiser contains mineral oil as well as ingredients such as vitamins and antioxidants that promise to help skin irritations or sensitivities, they won't do much good sitting on the outside of the skin.
Plus, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), mineral oil may actually be carcinogenic (cancer causing).
They estimate that around 80% of all skincare products on the market “may be contaminated with one or more of the two dozen recognised cosmetic impurities that are linked to cancer and other health concerns. And petroleum- and mineral oil-based products are no exception”.
"These trace contaminants in petroleum-based ingredients often readily penetrate the skin according to government and industry studies, and their presence in products is not restricted by government safety standards — they are legal at any level." Quite shocking really.
Is Mineral Oil Ever Beneficial for the Skin?
As is often the case however, there are times when mineral oils can be beneficial for the skin. It has a bad rap, that we for the most part, agree with. But some of us can benefit from using mineral oil based moisturisers.
Particularly mineral oil for dry skin. Those with skin that’s extremely dry and uncomfortable can use mineral oil based creams and lotions until their skin feels better. Mineral oil can also be used to help severe nappy rash or skin that’s become sore and burnt from radiation therapy. (Although always check with your doctor or oncologist first.)
But if in doubt, stick to mineral oil free moisturisers to reap the benefits to your dry or dehydrated skin.
How Do I Use Mineral Oil?
If you have dry skin and you want to give a body moisturiser containing mineral oil a go, apply it to damp skin a minute or two after stepping out of the shower. It will then help to lock some of the hydration from the shower water into your skin.
Always make sure it’s the last product you use too, to lock everything else in.
Avoiding Mineral Oil with Sönd
You might choose not to use products that contain mineral oil if they impart no more benefit than simply moisturising the skin. Other moisturisers and hydrators are available that contain no mineral oils, and have the added benefits of plant based, botanical extracts that not only moisturise but feed and nourish the skin.
Our Calming Hydration Day Cream and Overnight Replenishment Night Cream do just that! Free from mineral oils, they’re rich in skin supporting botanicals and alkalising silica salts. They’re suitable for all skin types but are especially beneficial for anyone with stressed out, non conformist skin.
As acne sufferers ourselves, we know they work, because we developed them to work!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.