Mineral oil used to be a popular moisturiser in skin and hair products. Cosmetics have been packed full of this stuff for decades, with baby oil and Vaseline actually boasting about it as a main ingredient, but lately we’ve learned that not only is it unpleasant, it is actually doing us harm.
What is Mineral Oil?WHy
Mineral oil is made from petroleum—as a by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce petrol. 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. So what’s the problem?
A study in 2011 published in the National Institue of Health (US) “There is strong evidence that mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body, amounting to approximately 1 gram per person. Possible routes of contamination include air inhalation, food intake, and dermal [skin] absorption.” Fat specimens removed from women who underwent caesarean sections, and also milk samples collected from the women after delivery were found to be contaminated with mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons. They stated that these compounds had likely accumulated over time from repeated exposure. “Cosmetics might be a relevant source of the contamination,” they stated. Other studies have shown similar contamination and the health risks are now being taken seriously by scientists who are concerned that much of the mineral oil we are exposed to on a daily basis does contain contaminants that could affect our health. They’re also stating that this topic has not been sufficiently studied to really put our minds at ease. And this is the main ingredient in baby oil that mothers are slathering on their babies in the belief that it is good for them!
It clogs up your skin
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.
For me, this is probably the best reason to avoid mineral oil. Yes, it may contribute to body contamination, 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. Not only that, but it also creates a waterproof barrier on your skin preventing anything beneficial in your skincare from penetrating the skin. So all those lovely vitamins and enzymes you are paying a fortune for are sitting happily on top of a layer of mineral oil until you wash them away!
There are such better alternatives. Natural plant extracts, nut butters, natural oils, 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?
Why is it so popular?
So why are so many cosmetic products stuffed full of the stuff? Yes, you’ve guessed it. It’s CHEAP. As a by-product of creating petrol, the petro-chemical industry has stacks of this stuff they need to get rid of. It costs money to deal with this waste so why pay out when you can cash in? The cosmetic industry accepts tons of the stuff at very low prices and uses it to pad out skin creams, lotions and much more.
How to avoid mineral oil.
Check the ingredients on your skincare and cosmetics. In the UK you might see it called petrolatum, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), liquid parrafin, light liquid parrafin, propylene glycol and baby oil. Check out other names here. Choose your providers carefully. Once you start caring about the ingredients in your products you’ll easily find alternative, better quality products.