Mineral Oil is Evillllll!! (or maybe not?)

Ok so I really don't do sensationalist headlines, please blame this one on Alice (fab blog) who sent this email with this title to me :).

Alice says, 'I started doing some digging about mineral oil and I keep coming up with evidence that mineral oil isn't that bad for skin. In fact I keep finding that it's actually a "good" ingredient. The Beauty Brains cite it as a perfectly fine ingredient (here) and explain the benefits of it in skin care. Basically, my questions are: Is mineral oil actually bad for hair, even though cosmetic grade mineral oil is ok for skin? If so where is the scientific proof of it? Is it possible that mineral oil is fine for some hair types and a death sentence for others, like silicones?'

Mineral oil is a cosmetic beauty standard. It is used because it is actually colourless and odourless (are you surprised?) and it mixes wonderfully with other ingredients to create a smooth product. Top beauty lines and drug store brands use it routinely for this reason.

It has been villified on many sites because it is often regarded as non-natural and a product of the petroleum industry. In my opinion it is natural because it is simply a product of filtering (or distilling to be more accurate) a naturally occurring oil.

The beauty brains post is very informative (click the link Alice provided!). Specifically for hair, mineral oil is useful for

1. Preventing the hair fibre from swelling too much when placed in water (see this post).
2. Preventing moisture entry in humid conditions (see this post)
3. Preventing UV damage to hair by forming a 'protective' layer which stops breakdown of the amino acids in the hair (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pg 109-122, 1993).

The sticking point (pun intended) of mineral oil is simply that, it sticks to the outside of the hair. It does not penetrate the hair like coconut oil does. Therefore, it is perhaps not the most beneficial oil that could be used on hair.

I definitely also agree that some hair can handle mineral oil better than others. Factors that could affect this include

1. How often you wash your hair with shampoo (more washing less build up)
2. How far up is mineral oil on the ingredient list on the product (top 5 listing means more mineral oil than if it appears in the bottom 5)
3. How often do you use the product with mineral oil (daily use probably means more accumulation than weekly or fortnightly use).

Avoiding mineral entirely for whatever reason is not bad, however using pseudo science to justify this is the problem.


  1. Wow, thank you for explaining that. I'm always wondering to myself, why do I avoid mineral oil again? It's in so many products. Even lip balm

  2. There were alot of things I had to stop buying because of mineral oil. crazy

  3. @Chanel, yep my lip balm is rose vaseline which is essentially vaseline (mineral oil) with some colour and fragrance

    @Jadeite - I totally understand where you are coming from because before I started researching this from a scientific view point, it had been burned into my head that mineral oil really was the devil spawn. I don't think it is a bad thing to avoid mineral oil in hair products simply because there are better oils. I do think though that there shouldn't be a blanket ban on mineral oil. Some people have no problem with it and some do, it is very much an individual thing.

  4. I know you did not mention this but since its separated from this product I will. :-) Petroleum in certain products by Creme of nature actually moisturized my hair better than another product I had that was all natural from another company(and expensive!!). Seriously cheaper and it smelled better too but I avoided it like the like plague like mineral oil because I assumed it blocked the good nutrients from getting into my hair LOL. Damn could have saved fif..umm a lot money. :-(

    Me and mineral oil though don't seem to get along oddly, when its in a product I deep condition with, my hair feels so dry afterward especially my ends! These are expensive products too like...Nexxus humectress. Yes I called it out LOL

    Like you said its an individual thing some people can use it, and some can't. Just have to see how it works for you before you curse it!

  5. haha! You quoted me in the title :) I wonder if it's a business plan--because mineral oil is so "bad" you'll buy our all natural "good" products? (Note: I'm not bashing all natural products)Mineral oil sounds like a better sealing oil than a moisturizing oil-sun proction, anti-frizz, swell preventor.

    I don't remember having too much trouble with it growing up and I started retesting some of my products with mineral oil in them and I've (so far) had good results :)

  6. I don't know about it's impact on hair but it's worth avoiding it in skincare.

    According to the Cosmetics Safety Database mineral oil is linked to cancer, allergies and immunotoxicity, is linked to toxicity in other biological systems in the body and irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs, though of course all these are debatable and not conclusively proven.

    Mineral oil has also been linked to a number of skin problems, including acne. The problem with mineral oil in moisturizers and other skin care products and cosmetics is that it clogs the pores of the skin. This is why it can lead to acne, and also means that the skin is more limited in it’s natural ability to purge toxins.

  7. lol Jaded - you can call it out.

    @Alice - yep I quoted you, that title had me in stitches!

    @Anon- You really must read the beauty brains link. They clearly explain the cosmetic standard of mineral oil contains no carcinogens (Cancer causing substances) and a literature search shows that there is no link between mineral oil and cancer. My main issue with the cosmetics database is that many times it does not list journals which can be easily rechecked (for example journal name, year of publication and page number). I never use this database for scientific research for this purpose.

    The beauty brains link does acknowledge that some people will have problems with acne. However, I would also contend that many natural oils/butters are actually also comedogenic, for example cocoa butter. I definitely think the case for acne is more complicated than just mineral oil

    I would love for you to cite the journals or scientific papers which show the information that you have stated. I never accept a list of facts which have no attribution in terms of a peer reviewed publication.

  8. I was a huge proponent of mineral oil. After all, that's what my mama used on my hair when growing up and I had hair all down my back. What people said, and what I knew to be true didn't add up. I use some products with mineral oil, but I've stopped with the hair grease only because it provides an artificial shine. Now that my hair is healthier, it shines by itself and it's much more natural.

    If it works for you, then keep using it. I do agree with you JC that there are better oils (coconut and castor are my favorites) to moisturize the hair and seal in the moisture.

  9. I disagree. The colorlessness and the odorlessness of it makes it a cheap filler, otherwise it won't be added to all this products. It's not benificial for everything, but can build up on hair and require harsher shampoo to be removed. It lays on top of the hair and prevent moisture from getting in, resulting in some situation plain dry out.
    If mineral oil was expensive to obstain, do you think companies will still include it in their formulations? I guess not.

  10. Thanks for the comments Keisha and mysskay

    @Hannah, you are welcome to disagree. Money is most definitely a reason but even high end brands which can essentially name a price for their product still choose to use mineral oil.

    There are benefits to using mineral oil as I have listed. There are also negatives and the formulation scientists have to decide which oil is best.

  11. I have 2 questions.

    First, does cowashing remove mineral oil from the hair? I would *guess* no since in your #1 you asked about how often one "shampoos". If I use mineral oil once a week, I'm wondering if cowashing the following week is sufficient to remove it, do I shampoo weekly, or can it stay on my hair (and stop moisture from other products from coming in my hair) for 2 weeks until next shampoo.

    Which leads me to #2 ques: Does mineral oil actually stay on the hair for that long, like more than a couple days, or a week, until it is removed by washing? Or does it oxidize off the hair, similar to what olive oil or shea butter would do?

  12. Q1 - It depends on how much mineral oil you have. Some surfactants in conditioner may be able to dissolve the oil, however, shampoo is probably most effective.

    Q2 - I have not looked it up but I doubt that any oil can oxidize off hair. Oil applied onto hair will gradually rub off on hands, pillows etc. It will not generally totally disappear unless thoroughly shampooed off. Essentially the oil film just gets less and less over time if nothing more is added.

  13. Ooo forgot to say thanks for the questions Skeeta

  14. Jc I have a question :

    It's been said that just like most silicones,mineral oil coats the hair and no conditioner can remove it.What I do not understand is:

    WHY all curlies that follow no-poo method DO use VEGETABLE oils and when it comes to mineral oil they are completely negative?
    Is the chemical structure that different that it acts like silicones and not like the other oils?
    I don't get it.
    If a conditioner can remove any vegetable oil,why not remove mineral as well?

    (it's the only oil that works as a sealant for me but I want to go strictly no-poo since sulfates are TERRIBLE for my extremely porous-dry hair..)

  15. Mineral oil is different from coconut or olive oil (the two veggy oil which have been researched) because it does have a different chemical structure making it less easy to transfer and also less easy to penetrate hair.

    It is really not true at all that any oil can prevent entry of water into the hair (otherwise when it rains, your hair should not get wet). All oil does is delay the entry of water.

    Water as a chemical is significantly smaller and more mobile than oil. Hair chemically loves water over and above most substances and therefore there is always a drive to get water into hair (until saturation).

    Most strict no poo routines rarely work. Conditioner is not designed to remove oil. As conditioner contains oil, it is therefore able to dissolve some oils but it does not 'clean' hair the way shampoo does.

    There are sulfate free shampoos on the market, most work reasonably well enough for curlies. For mineral oil and silicone in heavy use (for example daily styling), they may not be sufficient but unfortunately there is only one way to find out - trial and error.

    To be honest for the purpose of sealing hair (i.e creating a barrier to entry of water), mineral oil is much more effective than coconut oil (probably the same for most veggy oils too but I am quoting the research here).

    I really think that if you want to try a no poo routine, then try it and see if it works for you.

  16. Sure trial and error is the only way,but it's difficult to understand what has contributed to the way your hair looks an feels when you've used a lot of things/products!

    So the conclusion is that mineral oil works the same way silicones do- it's removed only with sulfats in contrast with veg. oils.(??)

    I don't care about penetration ( I am actually not sure if that's a good thing anyway!).I just want to seal and put shine while I no-poo and DON'T SMELL!
    Jojoba works also wonders to my hair but it smells...like most veg oils...pff

    But I still do not get it WHY mineral CANNOT be removed...what's the crucial difference in the structure from other oils??

    (I am sorry for my persistence but the scientific explanations you always give matters a lot ! :D )

  17. In the first response I said that because of its chemical composition mineral oil is less easy to transfer. This means that it does not rub off easily from a surface which most veg oils do. Veg oils will rub off on pillows or scarves leading to less oil on the hair over time. Mineral oil does not tend to do this as easily.

    I do not advocate for the statement that only SLS can remove silicone or mineral oil. SLS is simply a more effective surfactant (read up on surfactants on the search button). Simply put, it is very effective at removing oil. This does not mean that silicone and mineral oil cannot be removed with an SLS free shampoo containing different 'gentler' surfactants. It depends on the extent of soiling. Most curlies do not aim to fully remove oil anyway which is why SLS free shampoos are mostly good enough.

    In short there is no way for you to know if an SLS free or No poo routine will work for you without trying it. There is no way to predict whether or not you will get build up as a result of using mineral oil. There is no way to predict how much of the mineral oil you will remove using an SLS free routine. The reason why you hear that mineral oil and silicone can only be removed by SLS is simply because both of these do not easily transfer off from a surface and therefore the choice is made to use a highly efficient surfactant. However, this does not mean that you cannot get a similar result from an SLS free shampoo (I strongly doubt that conditioner is good enough).

  18. this post and your last reply were very informative Jc :)

    Thanks so much...


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