What the Fudge is Mineral Oil?

My most recent blog posts have been a bit product heavy so today I wanted to share a shorter WTF post. And ingredient in the spotlight? Mineral oil! I feel bad for the guy since he undeservedly gets a bad rep IMO.

A lot of the info I'm covering in today's post is pulled from the Beauty Brain's top 5 myths on mineral oil post (plus this follow-up post) as well as Lab Muffin's two posts on mineral oil (post 1 and post 2.)

The Basics

Mineral oil, also known as paraffinum liquidum, is a refined byproduct made when crude oil is refined to make gasoline/ other petroleum products. Like it says in the name, it's an oil.

And if you want all the technical details: "Paraffinum liquidum (CAS No. 8012-95-1 or 8042-47-5) is a highly refined petroleum mineral oil consisting of a complex combination of hydrocarbons obtained from the intensive treatment of a petroleum fraction with sulfuric acid and oleum, or by hydrogenation, or by a combination of hydrogenation and acid treatment. Additional washing and treating steps may be included in the processing operation. It consists of saturated hydrocarbons having carbon numbers predominantly in the range of C15 through C50." (source.)

What does it do?

It's occlusive AF. Aka it helps stop transepidermal water loss. Aka it helps stop your skin from drying out. To read more about that you can check out my WTF post on occlusives and sleeping masks!

Where is it found?

Cosmetics-grade mineral oil found in a lot of products-- Korean products, American products, drugstore products, ridiculously overpriced $300 face cream products. It's in cleansing oils and moisturizers and body creams. It's incredibly versatile and a lot more common than you might think. Just off the top of my head, I can list off a few cult classics that feature mineral oil-- Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre, Banila Co's Clean It Zero, Eve Lom's Cleanser, Bio-Oil, and La Mer's Creme de la Mer.


Nope. Cosmetics-grade mineral oil is not the same as crude petroleum. In the US, it has to meet the standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia (a non-profit organization) and is an FDA regulated ingredient. The Beauty Brains even did the research-- "We could find no published reports in any of the dermatological or medical journals indicating a link between mineral oil and any forms of cancer."

I think part of the confusion comes from the fact that unrefined, crude mineral oil has been linked to cancer. But it is NOT the same thing as cosmetic-grade mineral oil. Cosmetics-grade mineral oil has been purified to the point where carcinogenic contaminants are no longer present. The National Cancer Institute even specifically states on their website that highly refined mineral oils are not covered on their website.


Not so much.

I couldn't find much information on the comedogenic rating of mineral oil but thankfully Lab Muffin goes into it in her blog post. In concentrations under 30%, it's not found to be comedogenic.  It's also very stable, has a long shelf life, and isn't prone to oxidizing!

Of course, that's not to say you can't break out from mineral oil. It just means that a large part of the population doesn't break out from mineral oil.

There's also the myth that it creates an impenetrable shield around your skin and locks in all sorts of bacteria, dirt, and the ever elusive "toxins" and locks out all beneficial nutrients and actives. Personally, I think this is giving mineral oil too much credit. An impenetrable shield? That's a pretty big deal. But it's not the case. The Beauty Brains has an entire post dedicated to this myth.


Not from what I can tell.

One of the internet's biggest fears (in regards to mineral oil) seems to be that our body absorbs the mineral oil and that ultimately harms us somehow.

When I googled "why is mineral oil bad," the most commonly linked studies was this one-- "Evidence for cosmetics as a source of mineral oil contamination in women." Unfortunately, I can't afford the $51 it costs to read the article, but from my amateur understanding of the abstract, the study found that in fat samples from 142 women electing to have C-sections, elder women had higher levels of mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons. They also gave the women some questionnaires to fill out, including whether women regularly used sunscreen, hand cream, and lip balm (I'm not sure if they accounted for the fact that not every single sunscreen, hand cream, and lip balm on the market even includes mineral oil. The abstract doesn't seem to suggest so.) They come to the conclusion that cosmetics might be responsible for the increase in mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons present in the elder women. At this point it's merely a hypothesis, they don't have any data to support the claim.

Yet somehow the study has been twisted to say OMG MINERAL OIL IS DANGEROUS and we accumulate it through the use of beauty products containing mineral oil.

Besides for this one study, I couldn't find any literature saying that we absorb and accumulate mineral oil. In fact, this one study doesn't even prove that. It shows that elder pregnant women had on average more mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons in their fat than their younger counterparts. I think this is a case where correlation does not imply causation. We have no idea how or why those elder women had more mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons.

Another thing I want to point out is that there is no evidence that our bodies are even able to absorb topically applied mineral oil. A literature review published last year concluded that there is no evidence that mineral oil is absorbed by the skin.

Tl;dr version-- there's no proof that our skin absorbs and accumulates mineral oils from beauty products.

Why does it get a bad rep?


There are plenty of reasons why mineral oil gets a bad rep and I guess a lot of it has to do with marketing. As much as I love green beauty brands, many of them are guilty of fear-mongering. Brands that don't use it sometimes use it as a way to bolster up their own products. Ie we don't use this DIRTY mineral oil, instead, we use purified coconut/ olive/ marula/ jojoba/ almond which is better because it's natural!

Which brings us to the fallacy that something that's "natural" is inherently better than something man-made. I admit I totally fell for this for a while, but now I see it for the bunch of hooey that it is. In this case, it doesn't even make sense because mineral oil is technically "natural" since it literally comes from the earth, it's not something cooked up in a lab somewhere. Does it get more natural than something that comes from Mother Earth herself?

I think another reason it's scoffed at is because it's cheap. You know what else is cheap? Water. Olive oil. Salt. Air. Just cause something is cheap, doesn't mean it's bad for your skin.

Should you use it?

I don't know because I am not you! Only you can tell what your skin does and does not like. You won't know what your skin thinks about mineral oil until you try a product with mineral oil in it.

If you still have hesitations about mineral oil as an ingredient, that's totally cool. I wrote this blog post to spread information, not boss people around.

Despite dedicating an entire post to defending mineral oil, it's an ingredient I personally avoid. I don't like it in my facial skincare because it irritates my skin. I have tried using mineral oil based moisturizers on a few separate occasions, and every time I wake up the next morning with small bumps all over my face. The same thing happens when I use cleansing oils with a mineral oil base. But that does not mean that it's a horrible ingredient!

I think sometimes in the skincare community, there's this mix up that an ingredient or product that doesn't work on a personal level is a universally bad ingredient or product. For instance, I love me some niacinamide. It calms my skin down and helps with texture issues. But there are people out there whose skin hates niacinamide. Does that mean it's a terrible ingredient that should be avoided at all costs for every living being on the planet? No. It means that some people like it and some people don't. It's a simple statement but it shocks me how quickly we can forget it.

Anyways, if you were curious or afraid of mineral oil, I hope this post helped clear things up!

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