Is Mineral Oil Bad for Your Skin?

Before we look at whether mineral oil is bad for skin, let’s understand where different oils come from.

First, imagine yourself walking through a grove of olive trees. The breeze is rustling the leaves around you and the songs of different birds ring in the background.

Now switch it up and imagine yourself walking through an oil field. The pumps are mechanically moving up and down to extract the petroleum from the depths of the earth’s surface.

Consider that both of these scenarios have the potential of producing an ingredient to be used in your lotion.

Olive trees produce olives, of course, which are picked and pressed to squeeze out the olive oil. This oil has many purposes, including the possibility of being used to create a lotion, lip balm or herbal salve.

In the oil field, crude oil is pumped or drilled. This is then sent to a refinery, where it is put through a process of separating and cleaning to get a highly refined mineral oil. This mineral oil is clear and odorless and is used in many lotions, creams and other cosmetic products.

These two scenes give us a look at how the two oils are made, but don’t necessarily answer the question about whether mineral oil is bad for your skin.



Is mineral oil dangerous?

There is much debate on this topic. One of the big questions that comes up is whether mineral oil causes cancer.  Looking to the sources that discuss the possibility of mineral oil causing cancer, the oil generally being talked about is a less refined mineral oil that is used to lubricate machinery. This is a different product than the mineral oil used in beauty and skin care products. Most dermatologists agree that mineral oil is a safe choice.



Is there more to consider?


Consider why you put something like lotion on your skin.



There seem to be two different thoughts on how to accomplish this.

The Mineral Oil Approach

The molecules of mineral oil are larger than the pores of your skin. Because of this it helps to create a barrier that coats your skin and keeps water from getting in or out.

When my children were babies, somebody gave me the idea to use petroleum jelly mixed with some cornstarch when they were struggling with diaper rash. This created a barrier that didn’t let the moisture get in to their skin.

Many lotions use the same idea but in reverse--by adding mineral oil to trap the moisture in your skin so it cannot escape out. In other words, the mineral oil in the lotion is not able to soak into your skin, but works as a barrier.



The Botanical Oil Approach

Botanical oils, on the other hand, have smaller molecules and are able to soak into your skin, bringing the nutrients from each oil along. Olive oil, for example, has vitamin E and other antioxidants as part of its mix of nutrients. When the olive oil soaks in, those antioxidants are also soaking in.

Vitamin E is known for its ability to support the skin in anti-aging, because it attacks free-radicals, which can be destructive to skin. Consequently, it is an ingredient you will often see added to moisturizers by itself. But in olive oil, the vitamin E is already there--just hanging out ready to be absorbed--in an oil that makes a nourishing ingredient for skin.

I once heard a story about a boy who had swallowed lye and was unable to thrive on his own. But instead of leaving him to always be fed intravenously, he was taken home. Every day he soaked in the tub and then was rubbed down with olive oil. The water and olive oil soaked in through his skin and were his only nourishment. This was enough nourishment that he lived this way for several years.

We are merely trying to nourish our skin, not sustain our lives, but this story shows the nourishing potential of olive oil. Other botanical oils have similar nutrients and can do much for our skin.



How do you want to care for your skin?

It comes down to a simple question. What is it that you want for your skin? Do you want to just seal in the moisture that is already there? Or do you want to give your skin something that can soak in with its hydrating, nourishing properties?

For me the answer is obvious. I will nourish my skin with botanical oils that are full of vitamins, minerals, omegas and more.