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What is Mineral Oil and is it Bad for My Skin?

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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.

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?

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?

Mineral oil 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 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.

Why is mineral oil used in skincare?

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 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.

Why is mineral oil considered a risky ingredient to use on certain skin types?

So far, mineral oil sounds great. Cheap and effective, it can help keep the skin looking and feeling moisturised and healthy.

But 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.

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.

You might also 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 Sidekick Day Cream and Midnight Feast 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!

When might mineral oil be beneficial for 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.

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.







Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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