Mineral Oil: The Truth!

baby oil

You could argue that the modern battle between the forces of good and evil is being played out on the scented fields of cosmetic innovation. The natural lobby derides anything containing chemicals - apparently completely forgetting that everything ever has a chemical composition - and cries that natural is best. Yes, arsenic and deadly nightshade are wonderful things altogether.

Sarcasm aside, I'm not anti-natural products at all - I regularly wax lyrical on the benefits of my oil-based night time moisturising routine - but I am claim-sceptic. Not everything natural is great and not everything made from a  gajillion chemicals is automatically bad either. Life ain't that simple, and neither, oddly enough, are cosmetic ingredients, one of the most controversial of which seems to be mineral oil.

The main ingredient in good old fashioned baby oil, it's also found in cleansing oils like Shu Uemura's offerings. In fact, it's a hugely widely used ingredient across the cosmetic sphere. It's cheap, it's bland and it's loved and loathed in equal measure. So, is it the root of all pore-clogging evil or an inert substance that most skins can tolerate well?

Opinion is divided depending on which camp you fall into. I'm sitting on the fence and I read Colin's Beauty Pages' post on it with interest.  Authored by a cosmetic scientist Colin, who formulates products, this guy knows his stuff, and has a dispassionate approach to discussing issues.


The biggest problem with mineral oil as far as he's concerned is that it's non-renewable because it's a by-product of the petrochemical industry. If that's a concern for you, then avoid. With regards to the other complaints regularly leveled at it, he  debunks the following scaremongering myths:

  • It blocks the skin and prevents it from breathing and carrying out its detox function
    "The breathing issue is easily dealt with.  We don’t breathe through our skins.  The skin only has a limited role in detoxifying as well.  Most of our detoxification is carried out in the liver and toxins are generally disposed of in the urine.  Some toxins are removed in the sweat or sloughed off along with dead skin cells.  But you would have to absolutely smother yourself with mineral oil to seriously affect sweating.  And applying mineral oil is not going to stop dead skin cells being shed.  There is not the slightest suspicion in my mind that mineral oil has any direct harmful effect on the skin at all"
  • Mineral oil contains harmful impurities
    "The impurity cited is usually polyaromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, which are carcinogenic.   There may be a reason for the origin of this story.  Mineral oils are used in some industrial applications and these grades can contain PAHs.  There have been occupational health issues with these industrial grades, and if you do a bit of googling you can find details of these.  One case is drilling fluids used on lathes in machine shops.  The levels of PAHs permitted have been reduced and synthetic alternatives have been developed so hopefully this problem is on the way out.  But in any case, it has no relevance to the mineral oil used in cosmetics."
  • It is banned in the European Union
    "The origin of this story is elusive.  It is easily disproved simply by looking on the EU’s CosIng database."

Colin goes into far greater detail in his post and explains what mineral oil is good for, so head over to Colins Beauty Pages to have a gander. It's packed full of information and facts on an ingredient that's misunderstood, and makes for a great read.

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