Is Mineral Oil Bad for Skin?


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Sometimes things that are good can get a bad reputation that’s undeserved – and hard to shake! Such is the case with mineral oil, a harmless and beneficial ingredient that’s used in many skin-care products, but has been linked online and in magazines to all kinds of terrible things, from clogged pores to cancer. It’s time to set the record straight on mineral oil, and why the negative rumors you’ve read or heard are simply untrue.

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What Is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is clear, odorless oil derived from petroleum that is widely used in cosmetics because it rarely causes allergic reactions and it can’t become solid and clog pores. Studies have found mineral oil and petrolatum (a semi-solid form of mineral oil more commonly known as Vaseline) can assist in wound healing, and are among the most effective moisturizing ingredients available.

Though its association with petroleum has caused people to say mineral oil is bad for or ages skin, the truth is that petroleum itself is a natural ingredient that comes from the earth, and that once it becomes cosmetics- or pharmaceutical-grade mineral oil, it bears no resemblance to petroleum itself. Mineral oil used in cosmetics is highly purified and completely safe.

Environmental Concerns

Some people argue against the use of mineral oil, citing concerns that process it takes to extract it is damaging to the environment, and that it is a non-renewable resource. First, mineral oil is not a resource. It’s a byproduct of the petroleum industry. No one is drilling for oil to use for moisturizers. Mineral oil is extracted and purified from the petroleum refining process that occurs within other industries.

This is actually no different from how coconut oil (or other plant oils) is extracted, purified and processed into cosmetics. Thus, if you’re concerned with mineral oil as a “non-renewable” ingredient, you shouldn’t be. In fact, if this is your main concern it’s more helpful to stop driving your vehicle, heating your home, cooking with gas, traveling by airplane, using anything packaged in plastic (or typing on a keyboard) etc., all of which are primary reasons petroleum is refined. Obviously we’re not going to stop doing all of those things, nor would it be practical, but you get our point!

Is Mineral Oil Contaminated?

Mineral oil is approved for use in cosmetics (and a wide variety of other medical applications) globally, and in skin-care products is certified as either USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or BP (British Pharmacopeia). It does not contain impurities that harm skin in any way, nor does it contain any carcinogens (cosmetics-grade mineral oil is free of the compounds present in industrial petroleum).

Speaking of impurities, you may be surprised to learn that plants are subject to contaminants as well. Plants come out of the ground, with insects, worms, mold, fungus, bacteria, and other contaminates that must be purified (or removed) off before they can be put into a cosmetic, just like mineral oil. In fact, if you saw how most plants look (or smell) before they undergo this purification, we bet you’d never want to use another natural product again!

Can Mineral Oil Clog Pores?

Despite its greasy feel, mineral oil can’t clog pores as it cannot penetrate skin—its molecular size is simply too big to get into the pore lining where clogs happen! Instead—and this is good news—mineral oil remains on the surface of skin, where it does the most good—although those with oily skin may not like how products with a high amount of mineral oil feels or looks on their skin.

The Bottom Line

The claims that mineral oil is unsafe to use are unfounded and are perpetuated by cosmetics companies and people who use information about non-purified, industrial-grade mineral oil (which isn’t used in skin care) as a scare tactic. The truth is that the mineral oil you find in skin- care products is perfectly safe, and even better – very good for your skin, especially if it’s dry or sensitive!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.

Sources for the information above: International Journal of Cosmetic Science, December 2012, pages 511–518; Medycyna Pracy, Volume 62, 2011, pages 435–443; Journal of Dermatologic Science, May 2008, pages 135–142; International Journal of Cosmetic Science, October 2007, pages 385–390; European Journal of Opthalmology, March-April 2007, pages 151–159; International Wound Journal, September 2006, pages 181–187; Ostomy Wound Management, December 2005, pages 30–42; Dermatitis, September 2004, pages 109–116; Cosmetics & Toiletries, February 1998, pages 33–40; and Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 1996, pages 213–225).

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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