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Visit your local drugstore, and you are bound to find a plethora of lotions with mineral oil as one of the main ingredients. Hailed for its emollient properties, but believed by many women to clog pores, is this inexpensive ingredient good or bad for your skin?
What is mineral oil?
Mineral oil is a colorless, odorless substance that is derived from petrolatum. It is widely used in cosmetics because it rarely causes allergic reactions and provides a barrier of moisture on the skin and promotes wound healing.
What are some benefits of mineral oil?
According to Cosmetics Cop Paula Begoun, “Cosmetics-grade mineral oil is [among those] considered the safest, most nonirritating, and effective moisturizing ingredients ever found.” In fact, this 1989 study in the journal Dermatitis found that mineral oil was more effective in preventing water loss from the skin than a solution with 15% linoleic acid, a fatty acid. Mineral oil has also been shown to be effective in wound healing, according to Begoun.
Is mineral oil really comedogenic or pore-clogging?
According to Rebecca James Gadberry, chairman and co-CEO of YG Laboratories, mineral oil is not as offensive as many women believe. On a rating of zero-to-five, with five being highly pore-clogging, Gadberry says that tests of the cosmetic grade of mineral oil usually grant a one or two rating, depending upon the methodology of the test.
Further, mineral oil is an occlusive agent, which, according to the textbook Cosmetic Dermatology “functions by filling the spaces between desquamating corneocytes to create a smooth surface.” When filling those spaces, unfortunately, mineral oil traps other ingredients into the skin. If the other ingredients are comedogenic (pore-clogging), mineral oil can exacerbate their negative effect, as Gadberry notes, “Caution should be used when mineral oil is included in leave-on products containing pore-clogging ingredients — at least when these products are applied to clog-prone skin.” A list of comedogenic ingredients may be found here, from Natural Beauty Care.
Why does mineral oil have such a bad reputation?
Mineral oil is derived from petroleum. However, as Gadberry notes, many people do not realize “more than 50% of the ingredients used in cosmetics are.” In addition, mineral oil comes in different grades, ranging from technical grade mineral oil, used to lubricate engines and equipment, to cosmetics grade mineral oil, which has undergone purification. Contaminants that are not removed in the purification of mineral oil have been shown to clog pores; however, Gadberry notes that most manufacturers of cosmetics purify their mineral oil. Further, if patients use leave-in products containing mineral oil and comedogenic ingredients, the occlusive mineral oil would trap the comedogenic ingredients in the skin, resulting in more rapidly clogged pores.
As a result, should I use products containing mineral oil?
In a moisturizer, mineral oil appears to have high moisturizing ability combined with low irritation rates and a low price tag. However, care needs to be taken not to use a mineral oil-based moisturizer in conjunction with any products containing comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients, as the mineral oil would tend to trap the pore-clogging ingredients into the skin. For this reason, mineral oil should also not be used in leave-on treatments containing comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. However, as long as care is taken to exclude comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients from the skin care regime, based on the science, mineral oil makes an inexpensive moisturizer that will hydrate your skin. Don’t expect the results of niacinamide; just expect hydration from mineral oil. (For this reason, rating for Johnson’s 24 Hour Moisturizer: 6/10, will hydrate your skin, but don’t expect anything else!)
All in all, a solid hydrating ingredient (much better than I previously thought!), just don’t expect anything but hydration, and be careful of what you use in conjunction with it. 🙂
Ingredients in Johnson’s 24 Hour Moisturizer
Water, Mineral Oil, Glycerin, Carbomer, Phenoxyethanol, Ceteareth 6, Methylparaben, Sodium Citrate, Fragrance, Stearyl Alcohol, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Glyceryl Oleate, Squalane