About mineral oil in skincare products

In response to my post earlier today on products I’ve been testing there have been a couple of questions regarding mineral oil in skincare products (and silicones, for that matter).

For the longest time I didn’t use anything with mineral oil near my face – I believed that it was bad and that it would clog and even irritate my skin because of the large molecular size, mainly.

I have started reading more and more to prove the contrary and eventually sat down and did some research a couple of months ago. Mineral oil (petrolatum/paraffinum liquidum or whatever else it’s listed as) does have a large molecular structure indeed, but that’s exactly why it can’t clog your pores – it can’t get in there. It only works in the most superficial layers of the skin, which is where you want thicker, denser moisture products for protection against the elements. As for skin breathing? You don’t have gills. Your skin gets oxygen via your circulatory system, from the inside.

So, the summary so far: mineral oil basically prevents moisture loss, softens and even plumps the outer layers of the epidermis and provides protection against the elements (think wind, aircons, etc). It won’t do anything groundbreaking to change your skin, which is why it will never be my primary source of moisturisation.

Products containing mineral oil fits into my routine after (as in on top of) serum and non-mineral moisturisers as a barrier cream to keep everything inside and prevent outside things from sucking the life out of my skin. I am serious about my active treatment products, so I’ll never apply anything to hamper their penetration ability. Do not even try to sell me a serum with mineral oil, I will cut you – serums need fine textures because they have active ingredients that need to work a little bit deeper.

If you have thick-textured, coarse, oily skin you probably don’t have much need for mineral oil in skincare products and you very possibly won’t enjoy the texture except if it’s in a very watered down formula. Because of those larger molecules there is a residual feeling on the surface of the skin most of the time.

As for silicones – they’re even larger, and all they do is hang around on the very surface of the skin to make it feel smooth and even. And they make products spread nicely – that’s why they’re so handy in primers in foundations too. That’s the short version.

There are some instances where I’m against the use of mineral oil. When it’s a plant-based/aromatherapy range that promotes not only skincare benefits but therapeutic properties too; there’s no place for mineral oil in my opinion. It would prevent the plant extracts/essential oils from penetrating the skin so their point is moot. I also get very irate when high-end, high-priced skincare products are crammed with mineral oil. I immediately feel cheated because mineral oil is a cheap ingredient, and surely they can afford to put a more luxurious oil in a R1000 face cream/serum? I also despise the feeling of mineral oil (think baby oil or something similar) in the bath – give me proper plant oils there.

There’s one other thing that makes me cautious of laying on the mineral oil too thick – some clever people (and a couple of cosmetic brands) believe that you can over-moisturise your skin and ultimately make it ‘lazy’, leading to more dryness. The thinking is that if you continuously do the barrier protection and moisturisation ‘on behalf’ of your skin it will become more dry, more quickly. I keep this in mind and only slap on the ultra rich products when I feel the need, alternating it with lighter oils and creams.

Conclusion: Mineral oil moisturises and protects the outer layers of your skin and it doesn’t block your pores, but remember to put your treatment products underneath. It’s not a must-have ingredient and there are plant-based alternatives (pure shea butter, for example), but it won’t do any harm either.

Hope that answers some questions.

C xx

Don’t believe me? Sources here, here and here.




  1. Hasmitha
    Mar 18, 2014 / 3:27 PM

    Thank you Chantelle, this answers a whole range of questions đŸ™‚

    • Mar 18, 2014 / 3:28 PM

      You’re fast, I was still going to post the link for you. Answer was too long for a comment (obvs). Pleasure! xx

  2. Anye
    Mar 18, 2014 / 3:50 PM

    Thanks for the post!

      • Anye
        May 20, 2014 / 6:34 PM

        Could you possibly do one on lavender oil in skincare / cosmetics. Jeez I have fallen into that trap once or twice now. I have tried researching online, but there are some conflicting reviews on whether it is in fact bad for you skin. I must say it is probably the best disguised bad product – who would think something so pretty and great smelling could be bad.

  3. Mar 18, 2014 / 10:10 PM

    I had to keep reminding myself I was reading a skin care post but I think much of this could apply to hair care as well. I don’t think either (mineral oil/silicones) are evil but with my super dry hair I avoid both as much as I reasonably can because I need ingredients that can penetrate deep into my hair to properly moisturise. The only thing (vs.skin) is that while we wash our faces/bodies daily the same isn’t true for hair (well for all of us) so I feel like the shizz just sits there… Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, thanks! W

    • Mar 18, 2014 / 10:20 PM

      I was going to write one on silicones in hair products about two weeks ago but forgot about it. But you’ve got it exactly right – if you wash your hair daily/often; no problems. No-poo, low-poo & co-washing paired with silicones: problems. And it’s obviously dry hair types to start with that do that so double whammy. Anyhoo, sure you know all of that. Glad you enjoyed this one x

      • MarnĂ©
        Nov 25, 2015 / 11:40 AM

        Did you ever write that post on silicones in hair products? I’m interested. Very interested đŸ™‚

        • Chantelle Bester
          Nov 25, 2015 / 12:02 PM

          NOPE, completely forgot about it! Short answer: if you wash your hair often it’s all good, if your stretch beyond a couple of days you might run into some issues.

          • MarnĂ©
            Nov 25, 2015 / 3:56 PM

            Eeesh, some issues for me then, I stretch 3-4 days. Thanks, I’ll look into it xx

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