Mineral Oil for Skin

Mineral oil is one of the most common cosmetic ingredients, and at the same time, it is one with the worst reputation — comparable only to that of parabens, perhaps. Undoubtedly, today's passion for organics in the beauty industry — all-natural ingredients in cosmetic products — has played a part in this.

Many people believe that everything natural is safer by default, more effective, and better for one's health than the artificial stuff, so for their cosmetic care, they choose vegetable oil, like coconut oil, rather than using mineral oil products.

Is Applying Mineral Oil Bad?

Usually, the reputation of refined mineral oil used for skin precedes the actual facts. For many years, however, there had been no complaints against using mineral oil.

Mineral oils have been used in skincare products for more than a hundred years, but the exact date of the introduction of mineral oil in cosmetics could not be found. Its discovery is estimated to have been around 1870–1880, as around that time, the production of mineral oil was high enough at low costs.

This combination of these factors is probably also the reason why it was used as a cheaper alternative for vegetable oil like avocado or coconut oil. Any baby oil or cream you see in the store consists almost entirely of mineral oil.

It is also used as a base for many medical ointments prescribed by physicians, particularly creams for mild eczema, due to its protective actives and antioxidant effects. Even Elizabeth Arden's legendary Eight Hour Cream is made up mostly of mineral oil and paraffin — this cream was a real sensation back in the day and is still a popular solution for mature and dry skin type protectants. 

The Real Origin of Mineral Oils

Actually, mineral oils are not really unnatural — they are derived from petroleum jelly, which is an organic substance of purely natural origin. Petroleum is, in fact, a mass of prehistoric plants, seaweed, and plankton. This mass, in millions of years, under high pressure and extremely hot temperatures, has transformed into a new substrate used by people for a variety of purposes.

Sure, mineral oil is a product of petroleum refining, but only its most purified form is used in pharmacology, cosmetology and the food industry. The popular belief that mineral oils are carcinogenic has been disproved entirely — it is the polyaromatic compounds found only in the industrial sorts of oil that may have carcinogenic properties, but cosmetic mineral oil does not contain any of those and is generally safe for human health just like hyaluronic acid or shea butter.

Mineral oil is a complex mixture of highly refined saturated branched-chain and naphthenic hydrocarbons. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known carcinogens, are not present in mineral oils. The different grades are classified by their viscosities because of their compositions.

Scientifically, the differences between vegetable oils and mineral oils are small to insignificant. The efficacy of mineral oil is mainly 'external', as it seals moisture, preventing further moisture loss via occlusivity after application.

"Vegetable oil" itself doesn't exist as there are many different oils extracted from seeds, nuts, and plants. Simply speaking, vegetable oils have a biological effect, and mineral oil has a physical effect. 

It is a large class of chemicals that are smaller and more chemically diverse. In general, they offer less occlusivity - so the moisturizing effect is higher in mineral oil. However, vegetable oil is not inert; it offers a higher biological efficacy in specific applications. Also, mineral oil has a much longer shelf life than most vegetable oils because it does not go rancid. 

The Benefits of Mineral Oil Use

There are surely many effects of mineral oil use. However, as with all the other skincare products, you must learn about how the stable compound works and decide whether you should apply mineral oil or avoid mineral oil in your skincare routine based on your skin type.

The primary benefit of mineral oil is its neutrality. The amazing thing is that this ingredient is not supposed to be active in any way — it does not enter into any reaction with the skin and only has barrier-creating tendencies and does not clog pores. Instead, it simply covers the skin with an absolutely inert thin film that prevents liquid from evaporating and basically works as a protective layer on your skin.

It reduces the skin's contact with potentially harmful substances while simultaneously trapping the water on the skin's surface. The effect is instant — the skin becomes smoother, softer, and, after just a few days of use, noticeably less dry. 

The mineral oils is used in:

  • Cleansing skincare products for dry or sensitive skin types (liquid makeup removers, skin cleansing oils, various body creams, and emulsions) are most commonly used to dissolve the impurities and are then completely removed from the skin; 
  • Moisturizers for dry skin, as well as atopic or eczema prone skin;
  • Baby oils, baby moisturizers and emollients;
  • Massage oils;
  • Topical solutions for dermatologic prescriptions;
  • Lip balms;
  • Makeup products;
  • Sun care.

The Effects of Mineral Oil 

The emollient, occlusion, and ability to humidify the skin are three pillars of action of moisturizers. Mineral oils possess two of them: they are good emollients and are one of the most efficient occlusive ingredients. 

Occlusion will deliver greater efficacy as it helps to retain water in the skin rather than just masking superficial problems. Molecules of mineral oils are aligning and forming a tight 'palisade' that prevents the passage of other molecules, including water.

So mineral oils protect the skin from contact with any substances - it is called a barrier improvement. Also, it prevents the evaporation of water from the skin's surface, and this effect is called moisturization.

In contrast to vegetable oil, where the molecules can be extremely diverse, mineral oil is almost nothing else but similar chains of the same stable substances. The difference between light and heavy mineral oils (the low- and high-viscosity variants, respectively) is that the light variant contains more cyclic molecules that prevent the consistent build-up and clogged pores on the skin barrier.

Light mineral oils are, therefore, less occlusive than heavy mineral oils. Improvements in skin softness are an additional benefit that consumers can perceive if they use mineral oil.

It is explained by an increase in the thickness of the stratum corneum (the most superficial layer of skin) by up to 10%. When using sweet almond oil and jojoba oil, the increase in thickness is about the same, but the application of petrolatum, which is a much more occlusive version of mineral oil, results in a significantly larger increase in stratum corneum thickness.

The increase of stratum corneum thickness is used as a measure of trans-epidermal water loss, so it means that petrolatum or vaseline is a better water holder than highly refined mineral oil itself or vegetable oil. However, in this process of interacting with the protective lipids in the skin barrier, mineral oil, like all other oils, will disrupt its structure to some extent. 

Why Mineral Oil Can Be Overly Moisturizing

When using too long or letting mineral oil sit for more than a few hours, the skin's overly moisturized keratinous protective barrier swells up, and the skin's defensive functions weaken. It also turned out that too intensive moisturizing leads to certain changes in the skin cells, quite similar to those caused by aging — the renewal of the epidermis cells slows down. It can even be said that if you continuously use mineral oil, it can, to an extent, speed up the aging process.

Therefore, it is not entirely without grounds when people say that mineral oil can cause dry skin. The first sign of excess oil use is the feeling that you just can't do without your day face creams.

If the skin is healthy and not overzealously cared for, it can protect itself well enough and has its own refining process. If you don't use any cosmetics at all for two or three days, you shouldn't feel any serious discomfort (however, don't experiment for too long, because cosmetic nourishment and care are good for all skin types, especially after a certain age). 

Overly moisturized skin can't go through the day without cream. However, the feeling of tightness and discomfort appears right after washing one's face in the morning and can only be relieved by a nice thick layer of mineral oil due to its moisturizing ingredients.

Lip balm addicts have similar problems for the same reason. Mineral oil-based products work well for certain cases:

  • to protect the skin and its barrier function in winter;
  • restore dead skin cells after injury;
  • stress and irritation;
  • treat skin diseases.

Mineral oil shouldn't, however, be a primary care solution for months or even years!  

Using Mineral Oil for Acne-Prone Skin

"Acne cosmetica" was coined in the early 1970s to describe the connection between cosmetic use and acne breakouts. A variety of oils, including mineral oils, at the time were thought to be inducing this effect by clogging pores after standard tests in animal models, mostly rabbits.

An extensive list of commonly used "comedogenic" ingredients in skincare products of which mineral oil was reported to be mildly comedogenic but nowhere near as much as other ingredients. Later it was found that human skin reacts differently with much less of a comedogenic effect.

A wide series of products were tested for pore-clogging abilities that showed zero comedogenic activity in the same range as the negative control. The overall conclusion is that mineral oil is non-comedogenic. But all the earlier data that condemned mineral oil originating from animal models is still circulating and makes it difficult to change people's minds about possible clogged pores. 

The truth is that mineral oil is non-comedogenic. Peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that skincare products that contain mineral oil cannot cause acne, comedones because they do not cause pore clogging in the sebaceous glands' orifices. It does not oxidize or become thick and viscous, so it cannot lead to inflammation or sebum flow-out disturbances, and it is safe for acne-prone skin as well as sensitive skin. 

However, the oily film itself can make the skin barrier feel greasy and shiny, giving the effect of wet skin. The only real danger here is the combination of intense perspiration and mineral film — sweat does not evaporate from the oil-coated skin and leads to sebum oxidizing and skin irritation.

This results in inflammation and the appearance of red milia, often mistaken for acne (which has led to a popular misconception that mineral oil causes acne). 

Contrary to popular opinion, mineral oil does not suffocate the skin. The processes of tissue respiration do not change under the influence of mineral oil, because the skin gets oxygen through arterial capillaries, not through its surface. 

Mineral Oil and Sun Protection

As mineral oil has a high refractive index close to that of skin, it actually improves the optical behavior of skin, allowing slightly more light to penetrate into the skin rather than the skin reflecting it. However, human studies showed that using emollients containing mineral oil could decrease skin photosensitivity and partially prevent sun-induced damage.

The consensus of evidence of the effects of UV irradiation and mineral oil in humans is that mineral oil has a slightly reducing effect on the minimal erythemal dose (MED), so it can be seen as beneficial. This effect, however, is no more than that of other cosmetic treatments and no different from seasonal effects. 

Medical Use of Mineral Oils

Mineral oil is used in medicine as an emollient and as a laxative medication. Given orally, it coats the bowel and acts as a stool softener, stimulating bowel movements and easing the stool's passage.

It is completely indigestible and is not absorbed by the intestine, but its prolonged use may cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies. When taken with meals, ingesting mineral oil can interfere with the absorption of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as with the absorption of vitamins, particularly the fat-soluble ones like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

This negative impact on nutrient absorption and, as a result, food grade is the reason why we recommend mineral oil to be taken at night on an empty stomach, which can come with its own unpleasant side effects like stomach upset and nausea.

Environmental Impact of Mineral Oils

Unfortunately, the level of mineral oil's biodegradation is very low, so various methods of bioremediation are being researched. Hypothetically it could be possible to isolate some bacterial species able to use hydrocarbons of mineral oil as a source of energy and carbon, but it is still a theory.

Cosmetic use of mineral oil is much less significant than industrial, but some environmentally conscious brands are replacing mineral oil with vegetable oil to avoid potential environmental risks. 


So, in the end, the main thing one needs to remember when using products that contain mineral oil is that it does not affect skin health in any way, apart from creating a moisturizing layer like similar skin protectants. Mineral oil is one of the neutral, stable compounds that help restore the skin's outer layer protective activities but does not trigger any processes in the skin, clog pores, or slow down aging.

The reasons for using vegetable oil and mineral oil are very different. Vegetable oil is used in cosmetics in relatively small amounts to obtain a specific effect of a specific ingredient with, for instance, a particular receptor in the skin.

Mineral oil is typically used in much higher concentrations for its emolliency and occlusivity, as an inert film-making ingredient. The effects of mineral oil are physical and not biological, although this does result in skin moisturization and reduction of inflammation.

INCI: Paraffinum Liquidum.

Other names: Paraffinöl, Mineral Oil, Paraffinum Perliquidum, Dünnflüssiges Paraffin, Flüssiges Paraffin, Light Liquid Paraffin, Light Mineral Oil, Liquid Paraffin, Liquid Petrolatum, Mineralölraffinat, Oleum Vaselini Album, Paraffina Liquida, Paraffin, Liquid, Paraffinum Subliquidum, Vaselina Liquida, Weißes Vaselinöl, Weissöl, Paraffin Oil, Dickflüssiges Paraffin, Vaselinöl, Weisses, Parafinum Liquidum, White Oil, Huile Minerale, Huile de paraffine (huile minérale dérivée de l’industrie pétrochimique), Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly. 

Uses: dehydrated and dry skin care; sensitive skincare; restoring and healing solutions for damaged and traumatised skin; body care for dry skin; eye creams; baby oil and skin care; dermatological skincare, medical grade skincare; cleansers; massage oils; lip care; makeup removers; makeup. 

Recommended concentration: 

● 1–100%.

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