Stop Freaking Out About Mineral Oil

November 28, 2013

Stop Freaking Out About Mineral Oil

I recently discovered one of my favourite skin care brands uses mineral oil in its products. Despite never doing any personal research, I'd automatically assumed mineral oil was the equivalent of the skin care devil because well, Caroline Hirons said so. More fool me, turns out mineral oil isn't so bad after all.

Mineral oil is not, by default, bad for you or your skin. It's true mineral oil is a cheap ingredient, often used as a "filler" in place of more expensive ingredients. It's also fragrance free, colourless, doesn't oxidize and can easily be kept for a long time. For those reasons it frequently appears in many cosmetic products, however, is vilified under the assumption that it is man-made therefore toxic and cheap therefore poor quality.

Mineral oil is derived from crude oil, which originates from biological material (algae and plankton) buried underground and transformed by pressure over millions of years into carbon-containing compounds to make crude oil. It's then refined into different products including paraffin wax, gasoline, asphalt, and mineral oil, which are all vastly different from each other; while crude oil may contain carcinogenic properties, careful refining makes cosmetic grade mineral oil perfectly fine for human use.

There is a widespread misconception that "natural = good" and "man-made = toxic" which is simply wrong (and rather dangerous). Every chemical whether it's man-made or natural should be assessed based on its own merits.

Mineral oil has been accused of causing spots and aggravating acne, it's been blamed for stopping the skin from "breathing" and vilified for being a made-made "toxic" substance. These opinions were formed by studies in the 1970s, often spread by "natural" based cosmetic companies, internet consumer sites, and environmental groups who claim petrolatum and mineral oil cause harm to the skin by forming an occlusive oil film that "suffocates" it.

In 2005 a study discovered mineral oil does not cause breakouts on the face as was previously thought. This research debunked the myth derived from studies in the 1970s that put mineral oil on the comedogenic substances list. This research was carried out on the ears of rabbits who, unsurprisingly, react very differently to substances than we do and are much more prone to comedogenicity than humans. More recent studies have found products containing between 0 and 30% mineral oil are not comedogenic on human skin and even applying 100% mineral oil onto skin won't cause acne.

In regards to mineral oil "suffocating" the skin and preventing it from "breathing," this claim defies human biology. Mineral oil reduces transepidermal water loss by 40% and is equally as occlusive as coconut oil (preventing water loss and retaining moisture), yet does not induce acne. It also inhibits excessive inflammatory activity and has been documented to have anticarcinogenic and mild antibacterial effects.

For those who react negatively to mineral oil, it's important to remember it's possible for even the safest known ingredients to cause a negative reaction - even purified water. It's more likely a combination of ingredients causing your breakout than mineral oil alone, and most likely has nothing to do with mineral oil at all. There are much more likely culprits causing aggravation and acne in your beauty products than mineral oil. If you're concerned about mineral oil clogging pores (which, by the way, it can't since it cannot penetrate the skin far enough), only use products that are meant to be washed off after use and avoid moisturisers with a high content of mineral oil.

Assuming plant-based products are intrinsically better simply because they are "natural" is dangerous. Plant oils often have poorer safety profiles than mineral oils making them toxic and even harmful, they may also contain carcinogenic substances in unprocessed oils.

I think there are very few of us who can identify every item on a product's ingredients list so why do we automatically blame mineral oil when we break out? What we all need to realise is it's the combination and quantities of a product's ingredients that is most important. It could be any one of the many ingredients in a formula, or even a particular combination causing problems. There is significant evidence to show mineral oil is harmless and can even play a beneficial role in skin care routines, so quit freaking out about it.

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  1. Really helpful post! Thanks for the info :)


  2. Stefanie Meier11/28/2013

    Really informative post, thanks for clearing that up!

  3. I agree that people automatically assume mineral oil is horrible and that it's the ingredient that's breaking them out when it's not!!! Like you said it's a combination or quantities of product's ingredients. I think Caroline is an amazing knowledge blogger who really knows her stuff but I think people take things and run with it till it's a ridiculous mess! Even Caroline posted recently and said don't freak out so much if you are using it..

    Sarah | More Than Adored

  4. The reason I avoid mineral oil is for the reasons you pointed out, its 'cheap' and a 'filler' ingredient offering me, a person with very troubled skin, no benefits at all.
    I think if you have perfect skin and can look in the mirror without hating your complexion then go ahead and slap that mineral oil on there but for me (and many other people) it's a little more complicated than that and we have to actually think about what we're putting on our face and take care of if or else it all just gets a lot worse. I'm not talking a few spots once a month, I'm talking confidence sucking skin issues that make you hate the person you see in the mirror.
    I don't think you can preach that mineral oil is okay when there is a lot more to consider than that, but for now I don't want to use something that in another form is PETROL. nope. no thank you. stay away from my face.

  5. Brittany Messner11/28/2013

    Very interesting Sophie!

    I think it's important to take any opinions like this with a grain of salt. Do your own research before you decide whether or not a product or ingredient is "good". You need to have reasons for agreeing or disagreeing ;)

    Because I have very sensitive skin I am always weary of products with a huge, un-pronouncable ingredient list. Countless times have I broken into a rash from skincare that includes too much perfume! For this, the Cosmetic Database is my best friend. Do you ever use it?

    Loved reading this post.

    xx -b.

  6. This was so interesting to read! I really enjoyed your post - to be honest, I've never paid that much attention to the mineral oil content in my skincare, and I'm just fine!

    lillies and lipbalm

  7. "Do your own research"

    THIS. This was the reason I wrote this post. Not to tell people to use or not use mineral oil, but to explain that everybody should do their own research, to stop freaking out about specific ingredients because someone else told them to.

    I have heard and briefly looked at the website.. I do like to look at a whole range of sources before I make my mind up about any product.

    Also I think skin naturally tells you when it likes/dislikes something. I think mixing products on a daily or even weekly basis (like A LOT of people do) has far worse consequences than occasionally using ingredients such as mineral oil.

  8. I don't think mineral oil is for everyone.. just like plant based products aren't for everyone either. I can't go near plant based facial oils because my skin breaks out SO BAD, but if I use mineral oil I have absolutely no reaction.. because it's non comedogenic!

    I think it's important we all read (and understand) the labels on our beauty products (just like we should with the food we eat), but I think it's dangerous to vilify certain ingredients just because one person told us to.

  9. Brittany Messner11/29/2013

    Fully agree. It's so annoying that people will just take anyone's word for it! No, we are/should be smarter than this ;)

    And obviously yes, what works for one person may or may not work for another. Try it out, research it, make your own decision!

    xx -b.

  10. love that you pointed out how important it is to do your own research and just understand what works for your own skin! Thanks for sharing and writing about something that can be a bit controversial! :)

  11. Naomi Pickin11/29/2013

    Hi Sophie, this is a great post and a much needed conversation. I'm from Oqibo Professional Skincare and one of the recent enquiring comments on our Skin Refining Exfoliator is that it contains mineral oil. Skincare companies take very different approaches to their research and development so I can't comment in the wider sense but the reason we chose to include mineral oil in this particular product echoes many of your thoughts and findings. For us it provides a low skin reactivity rate, provides a silky glide and protects the skin from any scratchy effects that exfoliation generally has. It's also excellent and picking up excess sebum, dirt and grime and helps us get the actives where they need to be. This is also a wash off product so the mineral oil is only in contact with the skin whilst in use.

    Much of the confusion comes from the fact that there is so much conflicting information, your "do your research" mantra is the key point. Looking at fact based information, seeking out the latest research from reliable and knowledgable sources and taking a common sense approach ensures that you are choosing a product that's right for you. Context is vital and everything can be toxic at certain levels. Knowing your skin, and relying on your own investigative nous is really important.

    Thanks again for a fab discussion!

  12. I agree with this. If it works for you, then don't stop using it just because someone else doesn't like it. I constantly hear people raving about the wonders of certain oils, but lavender, rosehip and sweet almond oil all break me out terribly.

  13. I could NOT agree with you more. Um, just cos Caroline Hirons says it, it is already ZE EVIL. Ive been using the Shu Uemura cleansing oils for years now and its #2 ingredient is mineral oil. If it were clogging, imagine my face now.

  14. Hanah Tetro12/02/2013

    Excellent post - you did a great job in concisely explaining the issues concerning mineral oil and skincare products.

  15. Love, LOVE this post. So sick of everyone hating on Mineral Oil. A fantastic informative post to back you up :) x

  16. Thank you for doing some research!

  17. shortsmallsweet1/27/2014

    Hello, I stumbled upon your blog and I really love your style! Personally I've not really thought hard about mineral oils but I do care about things like parabens, fragrance, SLS, etc. Thanks for posting this, I think in a nutshell people can make a decision for themselves about what they think are okay for their skin/bodies.

  18. You make a lovely argument, and while the academic in me would like a list of references at the end of the post as well, I enjoyed your post. One of my fave products are Dr.Lucas' Pawpaw ointment.
    I've tried using others made from more "natural", organic substances, but they gave me breakouts, coldsores, and did nothing whatsoever to moisturize, so I'm sticking with my red tube for now :)

  19. If you follow the links within the post you'll find references to academic articles and reports supporting my statements :)) Like you I think it's important to have proper references when writing about subjects especially those surrounded with such controversy as this one.

    I'm not arguing that everyone should use mineral oil because, of course, it won't work for some people BUT I am arguing that people should stop breathing life into this notion that mineral oil is bad.

  20. I see now. It was just the one I clicked that didn't work :p
    I get your point, and I can relate. I have the rather dubious pleasure of being asked every day if a product contains parabens, with references to research done at the local uni. People are more afraid of the parabens that can't penetrate the skin - unless used in conjunction with certain other ingredients that has nothing whatsoever to do in skincare products - than of the bacteria that would rapidly multiply without it.
    I think media carries a lot of the blame - as reports are translated to layman's terms with emphasis on the "revolutionizing" or "shocking" parts.
    You also point out one very strong point for abolishing animal testing in cosmetics entirely, that the industry ofttimes seem to forget - animal skins react different to human. But I digress.
    All in all, an enjoyable read :)

  21. I completely agree with everything you wrote here. Best post ever. I always take what I read with a grain of salt and do my own research to make up my own mind. I hate the argument that "natural" is better. It makes no sense. Natural ingredients are essentially chemical components! Everything is a chemical. CH is a great blogger but it always irks me that many of her readers completely follow her advice like sheep with blind faith without thinking about their own needs and doing their own research. I personally have never had strong negative feelings towards mineral oil. It is in a lot of products I use and I don't think it ever has negatively impacted me so it never is a deal breaker for me.

  22. mysteries19842/22/2014

    Interesting, thanks for the post! It was well-written and clear, backed up with sources, which I always love. I follow the OCM and use mineral oil to cleanse; it hasn't done my skin any harm at all. While I respect Caroline Hirons and enjoy reading her blog, I do find some of her sources tend to be more anecdote than scientific.


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