In today’s article I’m busting some common myths and misconceptions about popular skincare ingredient – mineral oil. I’ll answer a common question many people ask: is mineral oil bad for your skin?
Mineral oil has a long-standing track record of safety and efficacy in dermatology and cosmetics.
Table of Contents
Mineral Oil Myths
Does It Cause Cancer?
One of the most common myths about mineral oil is that it is laden with carcinogens and will cause cancer.
There is absolutely no truth to this statement. While petroleum can contain carcinogens, it’s important to understand that petrolatum and mineral oil in skincare products is highly refined and processed to remove any potential toxic carcinogenic compounds.
It is very safe. We have no evidence of harm to human health through the use of topical mineral oil in skin care products and cosmetics and topical therapeutics.
I will list references at the end of this article to support that statement, but we have zero evidence to support these claims that mineral oil is bad for your skin and that it causes cancer.
Mineral oil in cosmetics is actually regulated by the FDA to demonstrate safety and purity and that it doesn’t contain toxic compounds or carcinogenic compounds.
I often get questions about using mineral oil in lip products, that we might be ingesting it. Again, there is no evidence of any harm to human health,from small amounts of ingested mineral oil through lip balms.
That being said, I would not advise anyone to go out and eat an entire tube of chapstick, but as far as far as the literature, it would suggest there’s no reason to be fearful that small trace amounts of ingested mineral oil from your lip products is going to be harmful to your health.
Does It Dry Out Skin?
The second myth that I hear all the time is that mineral oil will actually dry out your skin and cause your skin to make less oil.
There is no truth to this statement whatsoever. Mineral oil is a semi occlusive substance that helps to seal in transepidermal water loss and keep the skin actually hydrated and moisturized.
In contrast to natural plant oils, which are largely just emollients, mineral oil actually can create a nice barrier to prevent water evaporation out of the skin. It keeps the skin hydrated and is proven to address dry skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, cirrhosis cutis and many other skin diseases and skin concerns.
In terms of causing your skin to make less oil, there’s absolutely no truth to that.
Oil produced by the skin goes by the name sebum. The rate of sebum production and output onto the surface of the skin is governed by your genetics as well as hormones. Changes in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle will be associated with increased rates of sebum production.
If your skin is irritated, aggravated, inflamed, inflammation in the skin can lead to increased sebum production.
The rate of oil production has nothing to do with topical application of a moisturizer. Using a moisturizer does not make your skin oily or to produce more oil or it doesn’t make your skin produce less oil.
Does It Age Skin?
The third myth that I hear a fair amount is that mineral oil will make your skin age more quickly. There is no truth to that.
Skin aging is largely due to the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, including some that comes through the window and comes through clouds. It can penetrate the deeper layers of the skin, destroy your collagen supportive framework and that loss of the supportive framework in the skin leads to sagging, wrinkles.
It also suppresses the skin immune system, therefore reducing your ability to repair skin damage. Lastly it also drives hyperpigmentation and discoloration. Those are all the signs of photoaging.
Other things that influence aging of our skin include your lifestyle in general. Smoking in particular will age the skin very quickly, because smoking damages skin collagen. it impairs wound healing and it impairs blood flow and therefore contributes to aging of the skin.
Your diet to a certain extent can contribute to aging of the skin. Diets high in sugary foods and smoked meats can generate something called advanced glycation end-products that attach to the collagen in your skin and lead to wrinkles.
Mineral oil is a great moisturizing ingredient that will protect the skin from evaporative water losses and as we get older we stop being as efficient at repairing our skin barrier and so mineral oil is really helpful in reducing the dryness that accompanies maturity.
Does It Interfere With Absorption of Ingredients?
Another common myth that I hear is that mineral oil is going to interfere with the absorption of active ingredients from your skin care products or it’s going to pull vitamins out of your skin.
I think the logic behind this is that many active skincare ingredients and vitamins, like fat soluble vitamins dissolve in oil and so people somehow think that those ingredients are going to get stuck in the mineral oil and not get into the skin.
There’s no truth to support this claim and in fact many dermatologic therapeutics are formulated in topical preparations that include mineral oil.
Is It Inferior to Natural Oils?
Another common myth that I hear is “don’t use mineral oil, you want to use an all-natural oil, things that are natural are better, you don’t want to use some synthetic mineral oil.”
There is absolutely no truth to that statement. In fact many natural oils are far more problematic in skin care products.
Mineral oil is very shelf-stable. It doesn’t degrade, it’s not something that oxidizes readily. In contrast, many natural plant oils are not super shelf-stable, they can degrade, they can oxidize, they can become rancid and when that happens they become very irritating and lead to many skin problems.
Mineral oil is an inert substance, meaning your immune system does not really care about it and therefore it is not something that causes skin allergies and sensitivity.
Natural oils, however, contain many different substances. They’re not one pure substance. There is a mixed bag of different ingredients. Natural oils vary in their constituents from batch to batch in terms of preparation, the botanic source, the season, the region of the world that the oil was obtained from. All of these things influence the composition of a given oil.
Within that mixed bag of compounds within a natural plant oil, you have the potential for many irritating and sensitizing ingredients. If anything, natural oils are actually a lot riskier than mineral oil.
Does It Cause Acne?
Another myth about mineral oil is that it’s going to cause acne. That’s actually not true. Mineral oil does not cause acne. Some people with acne will find that their acne becomes exacerbated when they use mineral oil or really heavy moisturizers that have a high concentration of mineral oil.
For some people that is going to be uncomfortable, that’s going to be irritating and amount of irritation just from using a very heavy moisturizer might flare their acne.
But the majority of people with acne will not have flares with the use of mineral oil. You can’t really say that it’s causative.
In fact we now know that a part of acne pathogenesis involves an impaired skin barrier, meaning people with acne have a tendency to lose water from their skin and experience dryness and irritation that can then lead to worsening of the acne.
It’s been demonstrated that using a moisturizer as part of an acne skincare routine helps the acne to heal faster and helps patients tolerate their acne medications better and get clearer skin faster.
Does It Clogs Pores?
Another myth is that mineral oil is pore clogging. Mineral oil has has been shown to not be pore clogging. There were some studies done in rabbit models that suggested mineral oil was comedogenic.
However, those models have many limitations. A subsequent studies have shown that in fact mineral oil is not necessarily pore clogging.
That being said, if you use a product that is really occlusive, like an ointment that has a lot of mineral oil in it, meaning it makes a really heavy occlusive seal, for some people that is going to either exacerbate acne or lead to some poor clogging.
Another question about mineral oil is does it exacerbate skin conditions related to Malassezia yeast or Pityrosporum yeast.
No, it does not. Mineral oil is not something that Pityrosporum yeast on our skin cares about. This yeast thrives on oils but not mineral oil.
There are many myths and misconceptions about mineral oil.
Hopefully I clarify that it is very safe and effective.
Downsides of Mineral Oil
What are some potential downsides of mineral oil?
It comes down to how a product is formulated overall. Products that are labeled as balms or ointments tend to have a lot of mineral oil and/or petrolatum. Those products are formulated to be incredibly occlusive. They’re aimed for addressing dry skin conditions like eczema, winburn, chapped lips, chapped skin. They are really intended to create a seal.
For people with acne or a tendency towards clogging of the pores, some people may find that if they use an ointment or a balm all over their face, they get flares of either their acne or they see a worsening of pore clogging. They may see a worsening of the appearance of blackheads and/or whiteheads.
That is an individualized outcome, but it may be linked to using a very occlusive product. It’s not necessarily that mineral oil per se is a bad thing or something that should be avoided.
Another subgroup that will not get along with using heavy ointments and balms all over the face is going to be people with rosacea.
Many subtypes of rosacea find using heavy occlusive moisturizers actually feels hot and uncomfortable and can exacerbate some of their redness and even trigger a flare.
If that’s you, if you have that insight into your rosacea, then you have to avoid using ointments and balms all over your face. But it’s not because mineral oil is necessarily bad.
Mineral oil is also great to use as an ingredient to remove cosmetics and water-resistant sunscreen.
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- Patzelt A, Lademann J, Richter H, et al. In vivo investigations on the penetration of various oils and their influence on the skin barrier. Skin Research and Technology. 2012;18(3):364–369.
- Petry T, Bury D, Fautz R, et al. Review of data on the dermal penetration of mineral oil and waxes used in cosmetic applications. Toxicol Lett 2017;280:70-78.
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.