When I stopped her to mention mineral oil wasn’t really the most desirable ingredient for sensitive skin, she seemed confused. “But mineral cosmetics are supposed to be great for sensitive skin, right? Aren’t mineral oils in the same category?” she quizzed. She was shocked when I explained that although the term mineral oil has a healthy and natural ring to it, mineral oil has nothing to do with mineral cosmetics, or even vitamins and minerals – it actually refers to a by-product of petroleum.
Mineral oil is made during the distillation process of turning crude oil into petroleum to make gasoline for our cars and other petrol-based products. Some other names for mineral oil are the less appealing terms ‘liquid petroleum’ and ‘petrolatum’, so it’s no wonder most cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies list the product under the less innocuous-sounding mineral oil moniker.
Although mineral oils have enjoyed popular use in baby lotions, ointments and cosmetics for decades thanks to its seemingly-remarkable moisturizing and water repellent properties, it’s now commonly accepted that mineral oil is residue-forming and comedogenic – meaning it can block pores and cause acne. Petrolatum and mineral oils do not absorb into the skin because the molecules are too large to penetrate, therefore they stay on the surface and provide a barrier between the skin and the air. This makes it really useful for anti-chaffing products like nappy ointment and lip balm, and a popular additive to moisturising creams. However the barrier-like properties of mineral oil can also suffocate the skin, interfering with skin’s natural ability to eliminate toxins while trapping dirt and bacteria. Healthy skin needs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, and it can’t do that when it’s covered in a dense film. When ingested, mineral oils can also block the body’s natural ability to utilize vitamins and minerals. It’s factors like these that led John Hopkins University to name mineral oil in cosmetics and moisturizers as the number two cause of skin aging behind sun exposure.
However as it’s a cheap ingredient, mineral oil is still used extensively in everything from hair care products to makeup removers. Many companies claim mineral oils are perfectly safe, but since September 2004, the EU has banned the use of petroleum jelly due to the carcinogenic contamination found in products containing petrolatum. The ingredients for which these impurities are of concern are used in one of every four personal care products.
So it may be wise to avoid mineral oil – or at the very least limit your exposure by being aware of how much of it you’re putting on your skin. Unfortunately however, it’s not always easy to identify mineral oil amongst ingredients as it has many guises and names including the following you should keep an eye out for:
* Liquidum paraffinum
* Paraffin oil
* Paraffin wax
Alexami cosmetics do not use mineral oil, and/or it’s derivatives, in any of our products. All Alexami products are proudly mineral oil free.