Since my post on microbeads was so well received, today I’m going to be doing another science/environmental themed beauty post, and this time the topic is petroleum jelly and mineral oil. Is petroleum jelly bad for your skin? Is baby oil bad for your health? Stay tuned to find out!
The product most people associate with petroleum jelly is Vaseline, which was invented in 1870. It was originally promoted as being good for burns and scrapes, but in the years since then it has turned out that it’s not very useful in that regard. What petroleum jelly is useful for is on dry skin – it functions as an occlusive, that is, it stops water from evaporating from your skin and thereby preserves your skin’s natural moisture. Most people would also be familiar with baby oil, which is simply mineral oil with fragrance added. Mineral oil is known as liquid paraffin, pariffinum liquidum, and liquid petroleum, and is closely related to petroleum jelly. People often are concerned about the use of both products for the same reasons, so for that reason I’ll be discussing both in this post.
Myth #1 If comes from petrol, using it is bad for the environment
Mineral oil and petroleum jelly both are by-products that result from the distilling of crude oil in order to produce petrol. Yes, Oil is a non-renewable resource, so using it is environmentally unsustainable. However, mineral oil and petroleum jelly are made from what’s left over when petrol is produced, so you’re essentially reusing what would otherwise be a waste material. Companies aren’t drilling for oil just to make baby oil – the demand for petrol is much higher than for beauty products! In my informed opinion, the environmental effects from me using mineral oil or petroleum jelly is practically non-existent compared to driving my car or flying around the world. Therefore, I consider this myth BUSTED.
Myth #2 – They block your pores
Mineral oil/petroleum jelly have both been repeatedly tested to show that they are non-comedogenic on human skin (DiNardo, 2005). Non-comedogenic means unlikely to block pores – blocked pores turn into pimples and blackheads. There was research done in the 70s that said that they would block pores- but that testing was performed on animals, mainly rabbits, and rabbit skin is different to humans. The molecules on mineral oil/petroleum jelly are larger than the pores on human skin, so they sit on top of the skin and don’t clog the pores. Cosmetics are rated for how comedogenic they are from 0-5 (will not clog pores – high chance of clogging pores), and mineral oil and petroleum jelly both score 0. In contrast, coconut oil which is often touted as the holy grail of everything, is rated as 4 – fairly high risk. It just goes to show, that “natural” is not always better! To find out more about whether products are comedogenic, head to cosdna.org.
There are different types of moisturisers – occlusives, humectants and emollients (more about that on XOVain). Occlusives work by sitting on top of the skin and preventing water in the skin from evaporating into the atmosphere. The fact that mineral oil and baby oil sit on top of the skin, as discussed in myth number 2, is what makes them such effective occlusives. Applying petroleum jelly to skin has been show to reduce Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (evaporation of water from skin to the atmosphere) by more than 98%, which makes it incredibly effective, more so than any other product (Lynde, 2001).
Myth 3: Mineral oil will give you cancer
Some people claim that mineral oil will give you cancer, and often people who say so will state that the World Health Organisation consider it to be a carcinogen (substance that causes cancer). In actual fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), says that there is no reason to suspect that cosmetic grade refined mineral oil causes cancer. Untreated mineral oil, which is used in industrial machinery, is considered carcinogenic, but no one puts that on their face. (IARC, 2014).
I hope that this post was helpful for you, and that it might have answered some questions or concerns that you may have about mineral oil and petroleum jelly. They really are such useful products – I use baby oil to take my make up off, apply Vaseline on my skin over other moisturisers if it’s really dry, and use Lucas’ Paw Paw ointment on my lips.
If you have any more questions on this topic, or other science/beauty questions you’d like me to answer in future posts, leave them in the comments section and I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability.