Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Much maligned ingredients: Mineral oil (part 2)

A lot of the concerns about mineral oil relate to occlusion. (One quote is that it "coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores".) If you've read any tiny bit of this blog, you know that occlusion is a good thing that helps reduce transepidermal water loss, and that mineral oil isn't the only thing that causes occlusion. Great things like our butters, heavier oils, silicones, and allantoin help to trap that moisture against our skin, and we want that! To use the words "coats the skin like plastic"...well, those words are just inflammatory. We wouldn't say that about mango butter, would we?

As a note, studies have shown that mineral oil prevents transepidermal water loss about 170 times better than olive oil. Olive oil is a good moisturizer, but I wouldn't call it a fantastic occlusive - not like the butters - but it's still a significant result! Its sister product - petroleum - reduces TEWL by 98%, which makes it the best occlusive ingredient out there.

Does mineral oil clog your pores? No. It's non-comedogenic, which is why we see it in a lot of moisturizers. It offers emolliency without clogging pores, and those of us with acne prone skin can actually benefit from using it in place of vegetable oils that do penetrate the skin or pores. (Click here for a summary of a good study or click here for another good study.) 

Is mineral oil absorbed by your skin? No. Mineral oil forms a layer on top of your skin, which is why it's a great occlusive ingredient. (One blogger I read claims it forms both the plastic film and sinks into your skin, and can sink into the skin of others if you touch them. Second hand mineral oil? How does that make any sense?) 

Is mineral oil safe for sensitive skin? Yes. You'd be amazed at how many sites I read that claim it will irritate skin, but, in fact, it is probably a better choice for sensitive skin than most of the oils we use. It doesn't contain proteins or polyphenols or phytosterols or other things that could set off reactions in sensitive or allergic skin types. 

Does mineral oil cause build-up on your hair or refuse to be removed? No. It is a great emollient for your hair, creating a barrier between the strands and the outside world which will reduce friction (and we know that friction is one of the main ways we damage our hair). It is easily removed with gentle surfactants.

Does mineral oil cause cancer? No. Any of the studies you see linking mineral oil to cancer are about industrial mineral oil - which is easily contaminated by other things - not cosmetic mineral oil. 

So does mineral oil offer any benefits to the homecrafter? I think it does...
  • it's non-comedogenic;
  • it's occlusive;
  • it guarantees consistency in our products;
  • it's inexpensive; and 
  • it won't go rancid, so our products can have really long shelf lives.
So why don't I use mineral oil and why haven't I written about it on the blog? 
I have used it, and I like it in a moisturizer for my acne prone skin to offer moisturizing without break-outs, especially during the winter when I need some serious occlusion (and cocoa butter will make me break out like silly). I also use it in the form of holly oil (which contains mineral oil) as a very light, non-staining massage oil for my really sore back days. 

As an aside, it's interesting to see the glowing reports and write-ups about holly oil, which contains a very light mineral oil, when mineral oil gets such a bad rap! It's the same stuff! 

I don't use it a lot in my products because are so many amazing oils and esters available that offer incredible benefits - like olive oil with its great polyphenols, phytosterols, and hygroscopic abilities, to name just one - and I prefer to use oils that work as multipurpose ingredients. 

Plus, mineral oil can feel really greasy! I need about 5% IPM or a bunch of less greasy feeling esters to reach an acceptable level of oiliness in my products. (And I like my products on the greasy side, so you know it must be really greasy!) 

I haven't written about it on the blog because I really don't feel like defending my ingredient choices to the people who want to deride me for using mineral oil. I posted something somewhere once that I actually like it in a moisturizer, and I had to spend the rest of the time defending my choice with people who simply didn't want to hear that mineral oil wasn't liquid evil.

A few links about mineral oil...
Top five myths about mineral oil - part 1 and part 2 - at the Beauty Brains.
Mineral oil is non-comedogenic (I can't find the original study - it gives me a 404 error, so here's an interpretation of the article!)
Oils & mineral oil: Cosmeceutical Critique from Entrepeneur magazine with a few good citations.
Link from Cosmetic Dermatology: Practice and Principles regarding mineral oil and cancer.

Join me tomorrow for more fun with maligned products - the ethoxylated ingredients! 


mali said...

can we use silicones instead for the same occlusion effect?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mali. There are tons of ingredients you can use for occlusion, including cocoa butter, dimethicone, and allantoin (the three approved barrier ingredients by the FDA), as well as other butters, thicker oils, some esters, and beeswax.

Robert said...

What's funny, but also sad, is the person in the Beauty Brains comment thread who claimed her grandmother was murdered by her caregiver via m.o. M.o. would be an extremely inefficient murder weapon. I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect it was a perfectly innocent death, and that the family is dredging up some kind of case based on mineral oil that was given against constipation, which is a common practice in elder care.

The commenter pointed out that m.o. had caused deaths via lipoid pneumonia to infants and others from breathing it. The implication is that the vapors from mineral oil are terribly toxic. But what's actually the case is that if the LIQUID is "breathed in" in the sense of aspirated, yes, THAT can cause a lipoid pneumonia; so can milk.

Mitch said...

I think I disliked mineral oil for most (if not all) of the reasons you debunked in this post. I think my dislike for MO came from group think on the internet…. who knows.

Recently, I have had a nasty bout of dry skin. I have extremely dry skin, but can normally keep it under control with regular lotions. Nothing I tried worked.

I decided to find a lotion with a high amount of mineral oil… I finally selected Lubriderm for Men. Mineral Oil was the second ingredient (next to water).

After my shower, I could already feel the difference and the occlusion that it provided. The next day was even better. Now, I've gotta search your recipes for a recipe with MO.

Thanks again for your posts! Your blog has become my first source for info on ingredients and formulations.

Anonymous said...

Where do you buy your mineral oil? I can't find it anywhere. I'm trying to make a facial moisturizer like the Clinique Dramatically Different Lotion. BUt I don't know where to find MO. Or is there an oil you use that works just as good? That and Propylene Glycol can't find it as well. Or would Sodium Lactate work just as well?

Tina said...

I am wondering if MO can be used in place of silicone in making a liquid mica foundation?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

It would depend upon the recipe, but my first thought is yes, it should.

Tamryn said...

Hi Susan.

Thanks so much for all of this information! Your blog is simply the best, and an incredible source of reliable information. I honestly have found no better occlusive for my highly sensitive and extremely dry skin. It's sad that information can be twisted in such profound way.

I would be so interested to see a post on using petrolatum/vaseline in our products as I am dying to recreate something akin to Aquaphor, but a recipe that has some more botanical nourishment included. Do you have any quick thoughts on blending petrolatum with other oils/water soluble ingredients?

Thank you so much.

James Fielder said...

Poor mineral oil. Actually petroleum products in general seem to be hated by many. Personally I'm very fond of them; so far the only think that's managed to keep my blackheads and other blemishes has been petroleum jelly applied on the bridge of my nose followed by an old fashioned cold cream.

I seemed to try everything, from a department store routine that took half an hour to the all natural remedies listed on the net. At best they were largely ineffective. At worst they were drying/irritating. It was like getting a chemical peel, really.

I think the big issue many of these things, like silicone, mineral oil, parabens, etc get such a bad reputation is because sensitivities do, indeed, exist. But it's a bit of a stretch to say "It irritated my skin" to "It's a skin irritant." The former is subjective and reasonable...to a degree, there are plenty of confounding variables with things like this.

The latter, however, is stated as an objective truth. That would be like me saying cedar, pine, juniper, and many essential oils (Many of which are normally lauded as soothing) should be avoided at all costs or completely removed from everything because they cause a reaction with me. Seems silly when you say it that way, doesn't it?

As an aside, with how abused the word chemical really is (It's worse than literally or ironic at this point) maybe you should just be a title in the FAQ that says:

"Q: What is the definition of a chemical?"

"A: That's simple; it is anything that contains one or more of the following:"

*Periodic table*