Mineral Oils: What Are They and How Are They Used?

And why is it in so many products?

I'm going to start off with a confession, but please don't judge me: I used to slather face creams and body products all over my skin without checking the ingredients. If a friend raved about a product and said it worked, I'd try it. However, in recent years, a lot has changed, and I've become a lot more conscious about the products I'm using and the ingredients they contain.

Mineral oil is an ingredient that I've seen in several skincare products, and I've been curious to find out why it's so popular. Below, Eunice Cofie-Obeng, founder and chief cosmetic chemist of Nuekie, explains all we need to know about the buzzy ingredient.

What Is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is a colorless, odorless oil composed mainly of alkanes related to highly refined, purified, and processed petroleum, says Cofie-Obeng.

There are two types of oil — mineral synthetic oils and mineral oils from petrochemicals. Petrochemicals are refined mineral oils that are obtained after the purification of fossil materials such as coal, crude oil, or natural gas. These types of oils are used in the automotive, railroad, and aviation industries. Mineral oils used in cosmetics and skincare are purified, refined, and considered cosmetic grade.

Which Cosmetics Contain Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil can be found in a number of products including, hair care, nail polishes, face creams, body creams, liquid makeup, and foundations. However, if you're looking at the ingredients in your face cream and don't see anything about mineral oil, that may be because it's listed under another name. Paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum, cera microcristallina, microcrystalline wax, ozokerite, ceresine isoparaffin, paraffin, and synthetic wax are all names of mineral oils.

What Are the Benefits of Mineral?

Mineral oil is a humectant oil, meaning it attracts moisture from the air and binds it to the skin to increase hydration. In cosmetics, mineral oil helps to keep the skin moisturized by reducing water loss and preventing dehydration. It's also inert, which means it's less likely to cause a skin reaction.

"Mineral oil is widely used in emulsions, solvents, and solvent cleansing agents because it is one of the most stable oils," says Cofie-Obeng. "Mineral oil can work as a solvent by dissolving other ingredients in the formula. Also, mineral oil can act as a solvent cleansing agent by dissolving sebum and cosmetic residues on the skin."

Model applies mineral oil to their cheeks with a dropper
Getty Images

In terms of its function on the body, mineral oil helps draw out dirt and other debris to release and lock in the skin's natural moisture. Once the oil has locked in moisture, it's able to make up for the evaporation, giving the skin a lightweight, hydrated appearance.

There's another bonus: mineral oil has been proven to have anti-aging properties. Studies have shown that applying mineral oil is effective in reducing wrinkles and increasing the elasticity of the skin.

What Skin Type Is Mineral Oil Best For?

According to Cofie-Obeng, mineral oil is best suited for individuals with dry skin. "For those who have oily skin, using a product with large amounts of mineral oil in the formulation can cause a reaction," she says. This can include worsening acne, allergic skin conditions, and hardening of the skin due to accumulation of residue.

Are There Any Side Effects When It Comes to Using Mineral Oil?

"Mineral oil has a long history of safe use in common topical applications," explains Cofie-Obeng. "However, like any cosmetic ingredient, there is a risk of skin irritation depending on your skin type."

That said, it's important to monitor how your skin reacts to mineral oil, especially if you are acne-prone. Although it tends to form a protective layer on the skin, it may trap other ingredients onto that top layer of the epidermis, which can lead to clogged pores. So if you're noticing that your skin has been looking off after using the ingredient, make sure to go see your dermatologist ASAP.

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