Maligned & Misunderstood Mineral Oil

I've gotten several angry letters from readers saying I am not doing my research and that I somehow must be conspiring to defame suppliers of natural ingredients or cosmetics companies that make products with natural ingredients. They are particularly vexed with what I've written about mineral oil. I'm not sure how they missed the sources I've quoted. (Why do they always leave that part out? I always list my sources, and the lists are often extensive, and that takes a lot of research, while their letters rarely include any research to back up their contentions. Sigh…) I'm also not sure who they think I'd be conspiring with (I'm critical of all kinds of ingredients that pose risks, natural or synthetic). Do they think I'm being paid off by Vaseline or the petroleum industry? Nevertheless, it seems to be time for another look at mineral oil and how much misinformation out there passes for fact in the world of skin care. Two letters, in particular, got my attention.

One woman wrote: "The OSHA Web site has a link to the '10th Annual Report on Carcinogens' from the National Toxicology Program, 2002, that lists untreated or mildly treated mineral oil as a carcinogen! Who, if anyone, regulates how mineral oil is 'treated' before it's put into cosmetics or skincare products? The FDA only requires a skincare and cosmetic manufacturer to list their ingredients; there is no regulation on what's being put into the product." That statement simply is not true because the use of mineral oil in cosmetics is, in fact, regulated. Mineral oil used in cosmetics is called USP mineral oil. USP stands for the United States Pharmacopeia, which is the official authority for setting public standards for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, and other health-care products manufactured and sold in the United States. USP mineral oil must meet the stringent purity requirements defined by the U.S.-based FDA as well as international standards.

The information about mineral oil in the OSHA report is about grades of mineral oil used in manufacturing. Where it gets confusing is that mineral oil used in manufacturing can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which are known carcinogens. In cosmetics, however, the FDA allows only pharmaceutical/cosmetic-grade mineral oil (which has been refined to remove any potential substances or particles that are potentially carcinogenic). There isn't a bit of evidence or research anywhere showing that USP mineral oil is a problem for skin (Sources:; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, January 2005, page 2; Industrial Lubrication and Tribology, January 1999, pages 6–12; Cosmetics & Toiletries, January 2001, page 79; and Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2000, pages 44–46).

Another letter I received stated: "In your review about Arbonne, you said you disagreed with the view that mineral oil and other substances with larger molecular structures were bad for your skin. I have to strongly disagree with you as my husband is an Acupuncture Physician and he says that anything topical that doesn't allow toxins to escape from your body is very detrimental to your internal organs. Ever run a marathon? The first thing they tell you is to not apply any lotion so you can sweat properly. Your argument about protecting your skin from the elements is weak against protecting your internal organs!"

With all due respect to this woman's husband and the officials at marathons, forget mineral oil for a moment--not wearing sunscreen is detrimental to anyone's health and organs, and specifically skin, which is, in fact, the body's largest organ. Further, sunscreen ingredients are meant to stay in the surface layers of skin and not be absorbed into the body. There is abundant research showing that skin cancers are triggered by unprotected sun exposure and that the immune system can be compromised as well by unprotected sun exposure. All of that is certainly toxic and can lead to a systemic breakdown in which the skin becomes increasingly incapable of protecting the body's vital organs.

In terms of mineral oil, the question is, What toxins aren't getting out of the skin? If someone could name just one measurable amount of the "toxin" or "toxins" exuded from skin as a result of running or otherwise, just one shred of evidence anywhere, I would be thrilled to review it and alter my opinion. This notion of some nameless toxins getting trapped by certain ingredients is nonsense; what are they and just how does that happen? Mineral oil isn't permanent on the skin, it isn't plastic wrap, and the skin is not being suffocated by applying it. Actually, research shows that mineral oil can help healing and reduce irritation. All of the toxin mumbo-jumbo pales in comparison to problems caused by the lack of information about sun protection.

Surely it makes sense that when you are exercising, wearing any heavy or thick lotion will make you feel uncomfortable. The mixture of sweat and lotion is also not the best, but that is an issue completely separate from anything being trapped by mineral oil or the skin's ability to sweat being inhibited by mineral oil.

Source: Paula Begoun