Petrolatum, microcrystalline wax, paraffin—these ingredients can be found in many cosmetics and skincare products. Also known as “base oils” or “lubricant oils,” mineral oils are derived from naturally-occurring crude petroleum oil. In fact, mineral oil is a byproduct of the gasoline-making process and is obtained through distillation and further refinement. The refinement process is key as it helps remove any hazardous materials from the oil. The result is a clear, odorless liquid that is safe enough to meet product specifications.
While we choose to not use mineral oils because of their origin and manufacturing process, it’s important to know why they’re still used in personal care products and if they’re safe compared to vegetable oils.
Why Is Mineral Oil Used in Skincare Products and Cosmetics?
Mineral oil remains a key ingredient in cosmetics and other skincare products for several reasons:
It’s abundant. Since mineral oil is derived from petroleum, it is widely available in many countries around the world, making it easily obtainable for industries that incorporate it into their products.
It’s affordable. It’s abundance also makes it extremely cheap. It is more affordable than vegetable oils like coconut and sunflower oil.
It’s versatile. Mineral oil has a variety of uses within the beauty industry. It’s used in almost every type of product from creams and lotions to makeup and body oils.
It helps the product’s texture. Mineral oil helps give creams and lotions their smooth and light texture, which allows the product to glide on the skin without leaving as much residue. It’s also used as a jelly, which you can find in various balms and rubs.
Is it Safe to Use Products That Contain Mineral Oil?
The use of mineral oil has been a subject of debate for decades and many still wonder whether it is safe to use products that contain mineral oil. Mineral oil is generally considered safe since there is little data surrounding the detrimental effects mineral oil can have on skin. However, there are risks involved with the purity of mineral oils and their refinement. If the oil isn’t adequately refined, it may still contain traces of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, which are carcinogenic.
Mineral oil has also been associated with acne because of its capability to seal the skin like a barrier or mask. While it does trap existing moisture, it doesn’t provide any balancing properties to the skin, thus, those who suffer from oily skin risk causing breakouts.
What Makes Mineral Oils Different from Vegetable Oils?
Mineral oil is of fossil origin, derived from petroleum— this makes it a non-renewable source and an environmental contaminant since its biodegradation is extremely poor. It also contains no anti-aging benefits or antioxidant effects for the skin.
Vegetable oils, on the other hand, are derived from plants and are biodegradable, which means less harmful environmental effects. They are also nutrient-rich and packed with fatty acids and antioxidants that can be absorbed by the skin. Most vegetable oils are cold-pressed from seeds, nuts, and fruits. Some examples of vegetable oils include: olive oil, hempseed oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, castor oil, apricot oil, neem oil, jojoba oil, etc.