Mineral oil is the ingredient that gives us baby oil, Vaseline and more. It’s a highly occlusive ingredient that’s chemically inert, making it amazing as a final routine step. It’s derived from the refinement process of crude oil to make gasoline and other petroleum products. While the impurities in untreated mineral oil are carcinogenic, don’t let this scare you. Cosmetic grade mineral oil is rigorously refined to a degree where there are none of these impurities left and no risk. The World Health Organisation itself says refined mineral oil is “not classifiable as to its carginocenicity in humans”.
Yet people still love to harp on about the dangers of using mineral oil in skin care. Thanks to some shoddy research work, people have been given the wrong idea about its safety and place in skin care. Let’s bust some of the common myths surrounding this awesome ingredient that you shouldn’t be avoiding.
Myth: Mineral oil causes cancer/is toxic
Ah, the classic argument. It seems we can’t get away from ‘toxic chemicals’ and carcinogens these days. The carcinogenic compounds found in unrefined mineral oil are removed in the treatment process well before it reaches your cosmetics, making the mineral oil you’ll find in skin care completely harmless.
Mineral oil is not digested by the body nor stored in fat or other organs, making it incapable of building up to toxic levels. It’s in fact prescribed as a laxative because of its ability travel through the bowels and no link has been made between this and cancer incidence.
I might note, however, that National Toxicology Program stated that aerosolised mineral oil might be carcinogenic. It can also irritate the lungs and cause pneumonia in some cases if aspirated, so avoid breathing it in/working in the heavy machinery construction industry if you’re really worried. But that goes for a lot of things – what they’re claiming is like saying that water is ‘toxic’ because people have drowned before.
Claims that mineral oil is linked to higher rates of skin cancer (or any cancers) are unfounded. Mineral oil is also chemically incapable of being absorbed into your bloodstream via the skin, as some sites seem to suggest.
Myth: Mineral oil prevents your skin from absorbing moisture and thus dries it out
Not that I recommend slathering yourself in Vaseline as the first step in your routine, but there is no danger that you’ll ‘lock out’ the moisture by using mineral oil, or any occlusive. The moisture we care about is in the deeper layers of our skin, constantly replenished by the bloodstream. Mineral oil just prevents this moisture from evaporating out into the air a.k.a. trans-epidermal water loss. Of course, much like you wouldn’t put skin care on a dirty face, don’t use it before serums or other active products as the barrier it creates will hinder their effectiveness.
Myth: Mineral oil clogs your pores
Mineral oil is classed as a non comedogenic ingredient. It is also molecularly too large to physically clog the pores in the most basic sense.
It also does not ‘trap’ anything anywhere – whatever you put on your skin before mineral oil would stay there anyway (aside from water, which likes to evaporate). I can find no evidence to suggest that its occlusive properties are to blame for any statistically significant heightened risk of breakouts or bacteria. In fact, if it ‘suffocates’ the skin (which doesn’t breathe, by the way) as so many people claim, this would actually inhibit bacterial growth. Of course, everyone’s skin is different and your mileage may vary as to whether it personally causes you breakouts. I find it great for soothing irritation and flakiness when used as my final step at night.
Don’t let people use the fact that mineral oil is linked to engines and industry to scare you. It’s fear mongering. They use references to studies about unrefined mineral oil to further their agenda of selling you their ‘natural’ products. What we talk about as mineral oil or what you see on your moisturiser label is not the same stuff that goes into our cars. Mineral oil isn’t the bad guy – it’s a great, basic, non-irritating occlusive ingredient that I think is perfect for beginners.