Mineral oil has gotten a bad rap lately, often getting lumped in with other maligned ingredients such as parabens and silicones. From claims that it clogs pores and “suffocates” your skin to how it can introduce cancer-causing toxins to your body, mineral oil has endured its share of mud-slinging, so to speak. Regardless, you’ll often find it in many emollient skincare products—even ones for babies—so you have to wonder, is it really that bad?
For starters, it’d be helpful to know what mineral oil is and why it’s used. It’s a petroleum-derived colorless and odorless oil that helps your skin retain moisture. It also works as a solvent, breaking up oily makeup, so you’ll see it in lots of eye-makeup removers. The reason it’s so widely used cosmetically is because it rarely causes allergic reactions.
How did it become such a beauty pariah then? Some claim that mineral oil is comedogenic while others say it’s non-comedogenic, meaning that it either clogs pores or it doesn’t. To get to the bottom of this debate, it’s important to realize that there are different grades of mineral oil—cosmetic and pharmaceutical being the most purified and refined—and neither of these should clog pores.
“The confusion around mineral oil is caused by some cosmetics companies and people who use the information about non-purified mineral oil as a scare tactic,” says Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice Skincare. “The mineral oil used in skin-care products is certified as either USP [United States Pharmacopeia] or BP [British Pharmacopeia], and it’s completely safe, soothing, non-irritating, and perfectly healthy for skin.”
Generally, the worst thing mineral oil can do to your skin is exacerbate breakouts you may already be experiencing. “Mineral oil is not an ingredient to avoid unless you have oily skin, in which case the somewhat greasy texture of mineral oil won’t feel the best,” explains Begoun. Although there is one other downside: Since it’s a petrochemical, mineral oil is a non-renewable source and a small yet significant contributor to global warming. But you can at least rest easy about its effects on your face.