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My childhood memories smell like Luster’s Pink Lotion. Its scent is a mix of a salon-fresh blowout and a do-it-yourself relaxer. Mornings weren’t complete unless my mother smoothed down my ponytail with a dollop of the bubblegum pink moisturizer and just a hint of sheen spray after. After keeping my eyes glued shut so the aerosol could settle on my fresh ‘do without leaving me partially blind, I’d be on my way to school frizz-free and donning a bang that should’ve been brushed out a little more. As a kid, the last thing on my mind was whether basically bathing my natural hair in mineral oil was doing more harm than good.
However, now that I’m hyper obsessed with keeping my hair healthy and being mindful of everything I subject it to, I’ve found myself reexamining my love for this beloved classic, which remains intact. Personally, my hair has never experienced an extremely adverse reaction to it. Though I don’t use nearly as much as I did in childhood, it still does a decent job of eliminating frizz without the greasy buildup and keeps my hair soft throughout the day. However, if I use it every day and combine with a protein-infused styler, my low porosity hair is in trouble. It’ll keep other products from penetrating my hair, which leads to lots of buildup, matting, and dryness.
Yes, it sucks, but this is the job of mineral oil. Quick ingredient lesson: according to Jamila Powell, natural haircare expert and owner of Maggie Rose Salon, mineral oil is liquid paraffin, a by-product of refined crude oil. Crude oil is a fossil fuel used to make things like gasoline and other petrochemicals. Note: mineral oil is only a by-product of crude oil.
“The biggest misconception is that mineral oil is toxic. However, cosmetic grade mineral oil undergoes a rigorous purification which makes it non-toxic, and nonreactive,” adds Powell. In other words, it’s highly likely that your haircare products made with mineral oil have been through a refining process that eliminated carcinogens and other harmful side effects. (Though there are some studies that point out loose US-based regulations leave room for some products to be harmful, the effects of mineral oil and petroleum jelly on humans is understudied.)
Speaking of petroleum jelly, like protein, it goes by many different names. If any of these ingredients are on the label of your product, that means there is mineral oil present (including, but not limited to): mineral oil, paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum, microcrystalline wax, ozokerite, paraffin, and synthetic wax.
So why is mineral oil used in so many hair care products for natural hair? It’s a lubricant that creates the ideal “slip” for brushing the hair without causing harm and also creates a barrier for moisture. I’d argue that most of us want to keep moisture in our hair but how we go about doing that varies from person to person. Some, like me, can’t use too many sealant products because our hair is prone to buildup. Others need all the sealant they can get. And then there are those who simply don’t have to be overly mindful of this aspect of their routine. Ultimately, mineral oil isn’t terrible in and of itself; it’s all about how you use it.
“Mineral oils allow ease with detangling, creates a smoothing effect of the hair, can help with clumping curls, and aids in decreasing frizz,” says Powell. “I would definitely say if you don’t have a solid scalp or hair care routine, don’t use products with mineral oil. Mineral oil is meant to be a barrier to moisture. Therefore, a good cleansing routine is a must.” That being said, if mineral oil compliments your daily routine, here are five products that help lock in moisture and keep your hairstyle weather-proof too.
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Cantu Tea Tree & Jojoba Hair & Scalp Oil
Apply this antibacterial oil directly to the scalp to encourage growth and calm inflammation.
Creme of Nature Argan Oil Moisturizer
This beautifully-scented daily styler is especially kind to dry and over-processed hair with its rich and creamy texture.
Palmer’s Olive Oil Formula Bodifying Sheen Spray
Protect a fresh blowout or protective style from the elements with this shine-boosting, protein-infused spray.
Jamaican Mango & Lime Cactus Oil
Keep your locs shiny and moisturized with this nutrient-packed oil.
One ‘n Only Argan Oil Curl Cream
Address breakage and improve curl definition with this lightweight moisturizer.