Burning Question: Is Mineral Oil Really That Bad For Your Skin?

The list of ingredients that we're now told to avoid within our cosmetics is getting longer and longer. Sulphates, parabens, formaldehyde, mineral oil... But why is mineral oil, being such a common ingredient, put on the naughty list and widely documented as being bad for your skin? A colourless and odourless bi-product of the oil refinery process, mineral oil is often added to ingredients because it's readily available and cheap; the main benefit it offers is to reduce water loss in the skin by 'trapping' it on the surface, which is why it's included in many skincare and body products that claim to moisturise or hydrate. It's included in anything from cleansing oils, face creams and body lotions and often listed within ingredients as a derivative of petroleum. Mineral oil has definitely been getting a hard rap in the last few years from beauty experts and cosmetic enthusiasts, but is it really that bad for your skin? And why does it have such a bad reputation in the first place?

On its own mineral oil offers no direct benefit to the skin; it has no hydrating qualities and doesn't inject moisture, only trap what's already there and prevent further loss from the surface. However, this means if there's a lack of moisture there to begin with (excessive dehydration) then you're basically screwed: mineral oil will prevent the skin from absorbing essential moisture from its surroundings and naturally rehydrating itself to perform at its best. Vaseline is recommended to be used on freshly inked tattoos, helping to protect the design from becoming infected or healing ineffectively; this is simply because Vaseline creates a barrier and allows the healing process to develop as efficiently as possible. This is how effective mineral oil (or other petroleum derivatives) is at creating a barrier on skin. Do you really want a coat of Vaseline on the surface of your face?

Although skin doesn't 'breathe' and can't be 'suffocated', excessive amounts of mineral oil can prevent it from performing effectively; the skin also receives its oxygen supply via the blood stream, so this is more of a nourishment and hydration issue. As a natural side effect, mineral oil is also comedogenic; this means it can block pores and cause blackheads or acne, as the skin can't rid itself of bacteria or dead skin cells. If you suffer from breakouts or are prone to acne, it may well be worth ridding your cosmetic repertoire of any products that contain mineral oil to ensure your skin has a fighting chance. The substance will sit over the surface of skin and prevent the natural 'shedding' and renewal process that rids itself of dead skin, bacteria and anomalies that can cause big ugly spots. In order to minimise blocked pores that become infected and result in pimples, the skin must be able to regenerate as easily as possible - mineral oil simply hinders this process.

Mineral oil has also been proven within clinical studies to have negative hormonal effects on the body, blocking the action of oestrogen and having a link to cancer - although I'm no scientist, I've no doubt that using a cleansing oil that contains mineral oil will have no impact on your hormones whatsoever. Unless you're covering yourself on a daily basis over a time period of 100 years, it's doubtful any of us will 'consume' enough quantities to make such a difference; this is just another example of scaremongering that needs to be taken with a massive piece of salt.

In 2015 we now have so many better alternatives to mineral oil that don't cost a fortune to include; in my opinion a lot of companies continue to use mineral oil because it's cheap as chips and bulks out a product. If you continually use products with mineral oil in over time then the result could be dry, tender and flaky skin as the surface level can't attract and therefore retain moisture. However, mineral oil doesn't 'suffocate' skin cells as is widely reported, nor will it 'poison' cells because it's so closely related to petrol.  Many 'natural' companies choose to pick on ingredients and identify them as bad for you as a way to promote and push their organic alternatives, so it's important to make wise purchasing decisions that are right for you and your skincare routine.

Are you concerned about using mineral oil within your skincare routine?



  1. So much love for such posts! People buy the anti-mineral oil hype as much as they do the bio and eco stuff. And bio and eco are not necessarily good for everybody. It's just that things aren't so straight-forward - personally I have a problem with silicones and avoid them in my facial care (and mineral oil as far as I get it acts the smae way), but I don't have anything against them in my body products. The same with parabens - I don't eat a kilo of them on a daily basis, wtf with that bla-blah about their "toxic properties"... What people need is a guidance and insight into what these ingredients do and don't, not a paraben/mineral oil/silicone-free label.

  2. Once I tried the L'oreal Oil Cleanser, which is mainly mineral oil. At first I was amazed how quickly it took off make up and made my skin feel so good! After a month or so, my skin became really dull and my pores actually looked grey due to the clogged in grime. Blergh.

  3. Louise5.2.15

    this is such a great objective and well-informed article. Thank you!

  4. The only thing I avoid is Vaseline because using it on my lips it was causing tiny spots around my mouth - not very attractive looking! As I'm not acne prone I don't find it to cause breakouts but if I was I would probably avoid it. The only thing I do avoid is SLS in shampoos. Since making the change my scalp has been much less itchy and my colour doesn't fade as fast!

  5. I don’t loose sleep over mineral oil I must be honest. But I do check the ingredients of the products I use before I buy them out of habit.


  6. Overall, I think you make many good points. But since I am reporter who covers science regularly, let me offer clarification. When you stated that you are certain that none of us would absorb a sufficient quantity of mineral oil from beauty or body care to experience health impacts, that was wishful thinking. The reality is that mineral oils, even the grades used in cosmetic products, have been shown to carry contaminants and carcinogens which can bio-accumulate in our tissues. That means that they stay there and continue to accumulate. One study found them highly concentrated in women's fat tissues and the predominant sources were cosmetics, creams, and sunscreens. To assess what a given woman's cancer risk would wind up being from this accumulation, one would need to also figure in, other sources of toxicity (from diet, home and personal care products, and industrial pollution) as well as her body fat, age, lifestyle, and family history. We tend to think we are exposed to one thing at a time and that each exposure either causes a specific disease, or is harmless. It's not an either-or. It's about all contributors to health risks gradually accumulating until they reach a tipping point. Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Alison. Thanks for your comment. I do think there is a lot of scaremongering going on and if we were to listen to every clinical study we would never eat anything, use any household product, apply lipgloss or step out of the front door without thinking we're going to get cancer. Using a moisturiser with mineral oil is not going to have a health impact - like you say, it's based on a huge amount of other factors and is irresponsible to say otherwise.

  7. I avoid mineral oil because I suffer from quite bad eczema and have found, as you say, that it does nothing for me - it tends to leave me with sore, cracked, weeping skin. I agree that for most people it's probably not a massive problem but personally I try to steer clear as much as I can :)
    Great post, thank you for the info!

    Jess xo

  8. Wow! Thank you for this amazing post! I've been wondering for so long what was really wrong with mineral oil, without beeing able to find a satisfying answer. Now I get it!

    Geneviève | gendotss.blogspot.ca

  9. I've often wondered why mineral oil has the reputation that it does, so this post was really helpful - it made everything much clearer. I'll be checking the ingredients of my skincare products soon :) xx


  10. I've never considered it before but definitely am now! I suffer quite badly with acne so maybe cutting oit mineral oil will help! x


  11. I've only recently done my own research into this and have subsequently chosen not to put it on my face. You'll be amazed when you start looking at products to find out just how many do use m/oil. Check out the different ingredients that are actually forms of mineral oil too as it's not just labelled as mineral oil. A quick Google should fill you in. I'd much rather companies used good quality oils, like johoba or almond oil to fill in their products even if they cost a little more. If you read Caroline Hiron's blog, m/oil is one of very few ingredients she says to steer clear of.

  12. I've never heard much about mineral oil so this was a really interesting read thank you for the insight xx

    Laura | lauraslittleloves

  13. I avoid it because I always seem to get weird little bumps under my skin the next day after using a product with mineral oil. And quite frankly, I resent handing over what I consider to be non budget prices for an ingredient that companies like Shell pay cosmetics companies to remove for them. I feel ripped off,quite frankly.n


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