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The Ugly Truth About Mineral Oils

Posted by Amber Tipton on

Also called “liquid petroleum,” “paraffin oil,” and “petroleum jelly,” mineral oil has long been used in a number of industries. Nowhere is its use more debated than in the cosmetics industry.

Used to be mineral oil was a popular moisturizer in skin and hair products. People have relied on it for decades, and things like baby oil and Vaseline are old favorite applications. But lately, this ingredient has gotten a lot of bad press. What’s the problem?

What is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is a colorless and odorless oil that’s made from petroleum—as a by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline. It’s long been used as a common ingredient in lotions, creams, ointments, and cosmetics. It’s lightweight and inexpensive, and helps reduce water loss from the skin.

What’s the Problem?

Those of us who care about natural, nutritious products for skin don’t like mineral oil for several reasons. Here are my top two reasons to avoid it.

1. It Clogs Pores

Mineral oil is considered “comedogenic,” which means it can clog your pores and increase the risk of acne and blackheads. The more refined, the less comedogenic, but there’s no way to know (unless the company is willing to tell you) how purified the mineral oil is that’s in your product. The highest grade available is called “pharmaceutical grade,” or “mineral oil USP.”

Even this high grade of mineral oil can trap ingredients in your pores, however, because the oil is an “occlusive agent”—which means that it forms a physical barrier over your skin to reduce moisture loss. So if you already have bacteria on your skin (most likely), or if you have other ingredients in your product that can clog pores, even the most refined mineral oil will keep all of that close and tight to your skin, increasing risk of breakouts.

2. It Doesn’t Give Your Skin Anything Beneficial

For me, this is probably the best reason to avoid mineral oil. Yes, it may contribute to body contamination (which is a whole topic in itself), and it may make you break out. But most of all, it’s not doing anything for your skin. It’s not infusing it with nutrients. It’s not providing hydration that actually goes into the skin where it counts. It’s just sitting there on the top of the skin preventing moisture loss.

That may have been okay fifty years ago, but today we have so many better alternatives! We have natural plant extracts, nut butters, natural oils, and more that provide so many benefits, including essential fatty acids that plump up skin, antioxidants to fight free radical damage, and nutrients to help maintain skin firmness. Why settle for a film made from petroleum when you can do so much more for your skin?