Reader question: Is mineral oil bad for your skin?

Hi, Liz! I've been hearing and reading that mineral oil is not good for your skin. How true is this? Because a lot of beauty products, especially makeup removers, contain mineral oil and they work well for me. Even baby oil and the classic cold cream are made with mineral oil. But if they're not good for my skin, I'd like to look for alternatives. Would you know of any good eye makeup removers that don't contain mineral oil? Thanks! -Jix

Hi Jix! Thanks for the question. The answer is no. Mineral oil - the kind that has been refined for cosmetics use according to FDA standards - is safe. While this ingredient is indeed derived from crude oil, it is in no way anything like its original form after it has undergone the refining process. It's said to be one of the best skincare ingredients out there is since it's completely natural (literally, from the earth), doesn't cost much, and is considered non-comedogenic.

Before sharing rumors about beauty ingredients we must always do some basic research to find out if any of them are true! There has been a lot of misconceptions about mineral oil in the past, but I hope to clear these up briefly. Do note that I'm not a chemist or dermatologist, okay. This is just what trust-worthy websites like The Beauty Brains and FutureDerm have been saying all along.

Now, we have been scared into thinking that mineral oil can block pores and cause pimples. The truth is that it doesn't, not by itself. Mineral oil is an occlusive agent. It strengthens the skin's moisture barrier by filling in the tiny cracks and holes in our skin to prevent moisture from evaporating from it, which is why some people think that it harms the skin by "suffocating" it.

The truth, however, is that skin doesn't really "breathe" through pores per se; mineral oil doesn't cause pimples or block pores by itself. Nonetheless, this ingredient (and any other oil/occlusives for that matter) can be a hotbed of dirt and a medium for comedogenic substances that do not sit well on skin. In other words, oil is eventually contaminated by dirt and may contain other ingredients that you are actually allergic to even if you're okay with the oil itself.

I think it's alright to let mineral oil sit on the body, but if you intend to use it on your face, make sure to wash it off as the formula requires. For example, makeup removers must be washed off ASAP, so there's no real danger of mineral oil causing any kind of blockage or acne. If you're using a night serum or cream with mineral oil in it, it's also fairly safe to assume that your skin won't get super dirty while you're sleeping.

That's not to say that mineral oil absolutely does not cause or exacerbate acne. If your skin is sensitive to it then you will get a reaction. But for most of the population, this ingredient is considered to be safe and non-comedogenic.

If you do get a reaction, it's easy enough to switch to products with no mineral oil. :) You can go for other oil-based skincare with olive or coconut oil for example. You can also get water-based skincare instead.

Hope this helps!