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Is mineral oil beneficial for your skin?

This ingredient is a moisturizing powerhouse.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 29, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Applying Mineral Oil
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 29, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Even if you’re never heard of it, mineral oil in skin care is more common than you’d think! It’s the liquid form of petroleum jelly, an ingredient commonly found in products by brands like Vaseline and Aquapor. Mineral oil is most often used in skin care products for its moisturizing properties. 

So should everyone be using mineral oil? It’s complicated—while it may be one of the most moisturizing ingredients you can find, not every skin type may benefit from it. Here, we’ll dive into how mineral oil may affect the skin, any potential negative effects, and how you can incorporate it into your skincare routine.

What is mineral oil?

Mineral oil is a derivative of a fossil fuel called petroleum. Unlike the crude oil version of petroleum that comes from the earth and contains contaminants, mineral oil is highly refined and purified. It’s clear, odorless, and commonly found in moisturizing products like Vaseline, Aquaphor, and baby oil.

The mineral oil we see today is primarily derived from prehistoric, organic fossil plankton and algae that have been subjected to high amounts of heat and pressure over time.¹ Once purified, it’s a stable compound that is unlikely to spoil—even in hot, humid climates.² In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes purified mineral oil (also known as white mineral oil) as being pharmaceutical-grade and generally safe for cosmetics and human consumption.³

Besides its uses in skincare, mineral oil is used to keep dust from sticking to certain foods, like rice, oats, and corn, and as a protective coating on fruits and vegetables.⁴ It can also be used to remove earwax,⁵ relieve constipation,⁶ and treat head lice.⁷ In personal care products, however, it may provide your skin with a number of benefits, mostly related to hydration. 

What should I know about using mineral oil in my skincare routine?

It’s always best to consult a licensed dermatology provider, like those at Curology, to figure out beneficial ways of introducing new skincare products into your routine. But if mineral oil has piqued your interest, here are a few things to keep in mind before using products that contain it.

It’s an occlusive

Moisturizers typically fall into three major categories: humectants, occlusives, and emollients. If you’re curious about humectants, check out The Moisturizer, which locks water in the skin’s outer layer to maximize moisture levels. Mineral oil, however, is an occlusive, meaning it sits on the skin’s surface and doesn’t fully absorb. It enhances hydration by creating a barrier over your skin so that moisture can’t escape.⁸ As an occlusive, mineral oil’s job is to lock in moisture by creating a protective layer over your skin. Therefore, it’s typically the most effective when applied to slightly damp skin.⁹ 

It’s a safe, versatile ingredient

Because mineral oil is a stable compound that sits on the skin’s surface, it’s generally a beneficial ingredient for those with sensitive or dry skin. It’s used in baby oil to soothe rashes on infants and has been shown to help treat the symptoms of mild eczema.¹⁰

Although Vaseline and Aquaphor may be the most well-known brands associated with mineral oil, you can find it in a variety of skincare products. Certain moisturizers, face creams, eye creams, foundations, ointments, lip products, and sunscreens may all contain mineral oil. 

It goes by other names

When reading the ingredient list on a product, you may not always see refined mineral oil listed as such. Instead, check for any of its pseudonyms: liquid paraffin, liquid petrolatum, white mineral oil, paraffin oil, petroleum oil, and mineral oil mist are just a few.¹¹ 

Oil Bottle

The benefits of using mineral oil on your skin

If you have dry or sensitive skin, using petroleum jelly or another deeply moisturizing product may make all the difference. If you’re looking for a product that can help restore your skin barrier without clogging your pores, The Rich Moisturizer may do just that. But if you’re curious about mineral oil specifically, here are the evidence-based potential benefits of using it:

It leaves your skin feeling soft and moisturized

Research shows that mineral oil can reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) by up to 30%. Petrolatum, which is typically a combination of mineral oil and waxes, can reduce TEWL by over 98% when it’s in a minimum concentration of 5%.¹² Occlusives like mineral oil allow water to replenish in the outer layer of the skin.¹³ Studies also show that mineral oil improves skin softness and barrier function. It may even be more effective than some emollients and vegetable oils, which are typically classified as occlusives.¹⁴

It’s non-allergenic and non-comedogenic

Since mineral oils are stable compounds that don’t spoil easily, they’re generally considered to be non-allergenic.¹⁵ Unlike certain vegetable oils, they’re also non-toxic and not sensitive to oxidation or light.¹⁶ Mineral oil is also considered non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t clog pores.¹⁷ So although it can create a hydration barrier over your skin, it leaves room for your pores to breathe. If you’re looking for other non-comedogenic products to use on sensitive skin in conjunction with mineral oil, try The Cleanser to wash away dirt and excess oil without stripping your skin.

Potential negative effects of mineral oil on skin

There are a multitude of reasons to test out products with mineral oil. But before you do so, keep these potential side effects in mind:

Mineral oil can be greasy

As with any oil, mineral oil may feel greasy when you’re applying it to your skin. Products made with mineral oil, such as baby oil or petroleum jelly, may also rub off onto your clothes or pillowcase. If it makes you uncomfortable, start by using these products in small amounts. Some brands even sell lighter items—like serums—that have smaller percentages of mineral oil.

Mineral oil doesn’t absorb into your skin

As we’ve mentioned, occlusives like mineral oil sit on the skin’s surface. While a humectant will draw water into your skin from the dermis and from the air, mineral oil simply creates a protective barrier and seals in moisture that is already there. Since it doesn’t actively moisturize your skin, its hydrating effects may be temporary. For extra-moisturized skin, try layering an occlusive over The Moisturizer, which contains a humectant called glycerin

Applying Curology-s Rich Moisturizer on the Hand

Skincare personalized for you

Those with dry skin may benefit from the moisturizing properties of mineral oil, but whatever skin type you have, it’s important to find the right moisturizer that works for you. That’s why Curology offers two different types, a gel moisturizer and a cream moisturizer, to help hydrate your skin without clogging pores.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Still have questions about what products are most effective for your skin? We have answers. Once you take a skin quiz and capture a few photos of your face for us, we’ll pair you with a licensed dermatology provider who will meet with you one-on-one. If Curology is right for you, they’ll provide any recommendations you need and prescribe you a personalized treatment plan. To get started, sign up for a 30-day trial today.

FAQs

Is mineral oil or coconut oil better for the skin?

Coconut oil has been shown to be as effective and safe as mineral oil for moisturization.¹⁸ That said, coconut oil is known to be pore-clogging, so we don’t recommend using it as a moisturizer and we don’t include it in any of our products. Instead, we use squalane, a plant-based oil that locks in moisture to help soften skin, and jojoba seed oil in The Lip Balm, which deeply moisturizes lips without clogging pores or leaving a greasy finish.

Is baby oil the same as mineral oil?

Essentially, yes. Most commercial baby oil is composed of at least 98% mineral oil with added fragrance.¹⁹ Like with other mineral oil products, baby oil is most effective when applied on slightly damp skin after a bath or shower. 

What are the side effects of mineral oil on the skin?

Mineral oil doesn’t directly clog pores, but it theoretically could trap dead skin cells and sebum on the skin. It may be most effective for those with dry or sensitive skin. Here are a few more potential side effects to keep in mind:

  • It can be greasy: Products made with mineral oil, such as baby oil or petroleum jelly, may rub off onto your clothes or pillowcase.

  • It doesn’t absorb into your skin: While a humectant will draw water into your skin from the dermis and from the air, mineral oil simply creates a protective barrier and seals in moisture that is already there. Since it doesn’t actively moisturize your skin, its hydrating effects may be temporary. 

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Rawlings, A.V., et al. A review on the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (2012, September 19).

  2. Telofski, L.S., et al. The Infant Skin Barrier: Can We Preserve, Protect, and Enhance the Barrier? Dermatology Research and Practice. (2012, September 4).

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. White mineral oil. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (2023, March 28). 

  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. White mineral oil. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Ibid.

  5. Aaron, K., et al. Ear drops for the removal of ear wax. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (2018, July 25).

  6. Weinstein, Michael. First do no harm: The dangers of mineral oil. Paediatr Child Health. (March 2001).

  7. Wolf, L., et al. Efficacy and Safety of a Mineral Oil-Based Head Lice Shampoo: A Randomized, Controlled, Investigator-Blinded, Comparative Study. PLoS One. (2016, June 10).

  8. Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The slippery road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. (2016, May 13).

  9. Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The slippery road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. Ibid.

  10. Rawlings, A.V., et al. A review on the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  11. Rawlings, A.V., et al. A review on the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  12. Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The slippery road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. Ibid.

  13. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. (2022, August 21).

  14. Rawlings, A.V., et al. A review on the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  15. Chuberre, B., et al. Mineral oils and waxes in cosmetics: an overview mainly based on the current European regulations and the safety profile of these compounds. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. (November 2019). 

  16. Rawlings, A.V., et al. A review on the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  17. Rawlings, A.V., et al. A review on the extensive skin benefits of mineral oil. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid. 

  18. Agero, A.L.C., et al. A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis. (2004, September 15).

  19. Sofskin Baby Mineral Oil. Nova Petroleum & Chemicals Corporation. (March 2010).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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