greenwashing (4): mineral oil

Oils: mineral vs. palm, in particular. Mineral oil has suffered terribly from fallacious reasoning and careless, ignorant, and even stupid misreading and misinterpretation of available evidence. One could blame simple minds who struggle with the non-simple, and verily complicated, notion that Things Might Be A Bit More Complicated than trite polarities, and a resulting “conclusion” that mineral oil = evil.

I for one use alternatives where available and (pragmatically, practically) possible.

Though noting that mineral oil is one of the things that works the best on my skin. And that in some circumstances mineral oil and mineral-oil-based products are, environmentally-speaking, the best options: compared, say, to palm-oil- and soybean-oil-based “natural lines” from the P&G and J&J groups. If, say, you’re out of moisturising unguents and urgently need some as you’re desiccating at a rate of knots, but are in a small town with one shop, and have no access to transport to shop elsewhere nor to the interweb, postal services, other shipping so as to shop elsewhere online (and, say, no credit card or not with you). The nearest thing to a primal survival situation in the wilds outside the comforts of the cosmopolis… Such things do happen.


On the virtues of using those pesky pernicious “synthetic” ingredients–and the evils of unsustainably-sourced palm oil:

On palm oil, going back over the last few years… here’s a sample, also from The Guardian’s “Environment” column, going back as far as 2004:

Full search here:

The first articles I’d seen on this angle on plant-based not necessarily being the most environmentally conscious option would be, oooh, some point around 1996 or so?



Want to reduce use of petroleum products and hydrocarbon dependency? Here are some things that make a bigger difference than not using mineral oil:

1. Avoid fuel consumption. Walk. Cycle. Use public transport.

2. If you have to use a car: carpool, car-share, don’t own one but use zipcars and other cooperative schemes.

3. If you have to fly–which does happen, let’s face it, living in the real–non-black-and-white–world: carbon offset.

3. Reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle, renew.



(original post) “Is Vaseline Bad For You?”

(reply 1) “Not sure… there was a study that linked the impurities to breast cancer

A study linking the petrolatum impurity polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs to breast cancer was completed at Columbia University. The study indicates that breast tissue of women with breast cancer were 2.6 times more likely to have increased amounts of PAHs attached to their DNA than the breast tissue of women without breast cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in oil, coal and tar deposits as byproducts of fuel burning. Researchers June K.Dunnick, Michael R.Elwell, James Huff and J.Carl Barrett of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC also found that PAHs were found in the mutated genes of test animals with mammary gland cancer.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon impurities (PAH’s) in petrolatum can cause hypersensitivity reactions.

(yours truly) careful, careful, nicely, nicely, tread softly: my quibbles:

1. there’s a difference between “oil, coal and tar deposits as byproducts of fuel burning” and cosmetic-grade petrolatum.

2. My reading of the study would have suggested that a much more likely source for the PAHs would be precisely those “byproducts of fuel burning”: car exhaust fumes and the like.

3. On that link: and link is absolutely the word, because there’s links and links, as there’s a difference between
—finding substance X in cancerous tissue (= coincidence)
—*always* finding substance X in cancerous tissue and *never* in non-cancerous tissue (= correlation)
—X causes cancer, which requires further and more evidence and proof (= causation).



A sequence of posts: “Is using mineral oil long-term bad for you?”

I note the following:

1. On all comedogenicity and irritancy scales, it scores a 0.

2. See: The Beauty Brains, “The Top Five Myths about Mineral Oil”

3. To distinguish: whether or not an item works vs. other criteria in judgement, selection, considerations determining use.

On to the meat and potatoes…

My MUA buddy mej5s (Who Is Wise) responded aptly:

All complete nonsense propogated by many less scrupulous green companies whowant you to feel that mineral oil is a threatening “toxic” substance so you will buy their products instead

Mineral oil is of the Earth
Mineral oil (pharmaceutical and cosmetical grade) is highly-refined and does not contain cancer-causing substances
Mineral oil reduces trans-epidermal water loss but does not result in complete occlusion of the skin – it is non-comedogenic and non acnegenic
Mineral oil does not accelerate drying – it holds water in *see transepidermal water loss comment above* which decreases dry skin and thereby reduces the signs of aging
For those with acne and/or fungal conditions (seb derm) mineral oil is a BETTER choice than most plant oils because these can feed the yeast that causes those conditions – fungus loves oleic acid and many plant oils are full of this

The choice is always yours but the stories out there on mineral oil are 99% nonsense

I did so more longwindedly:

Where do the claims come from? Excellent question. Someone could probably get a PhD out of researching the history of the myth… Quick answer:
(a) environmentalism and (reasonable) distrust of big companies (and government agencies), more interested in making money than consumer and planet protection.
(b) green marketing (fairly reasonable, but still ethically dubious) by small companies, to get into the skincare/cosmetics market, and fight against the Big Guys.
(c) greenwashing and fear-mongering (ethically dubious) by aforementioned green companies, plus bigger ones trying to get into the green market.
(d) ignorance and fear of science, overtly anti-science stances, distrust and dislike of everything associated with science: labs, men in lab-coats, man-made stuff, sterility, synthetic, and the “chemical = toxic” fallacy. Add in bad science (see blog of same name), and the misreading and misinterpretation and deliberate misconstrual of actual science.
This is all often (as seen on this here green board) for understandable reasons–environmentalist, feminist–but is nevertheless a bad thing. Rooted in ignorance and fear. Fighting ignorance and fear not through (self-)education and attempts to understand, but by knee-jerk reactions and blind prejudice.

On mineral oil:
1. Yes, it’s cheap. There is no connection between cheapness and badness, or indeed price and quality.

2. Palm oil and soybean oil are cheap too, and often used by companies as a cheap oil (and greenwashing to pander to customer niggles about petrochemicals). Very cheap if produced from GMO crops on de-rainforest-ed land, complete with forced evictions, near-slave labour, and use of cheap fertilizers exacerbating desertification and poisoning (I use the word carefully and in its proper sense) of the soil.

3. Byproduct of the petrochemical industry, yes indeed. Note re. toxicity issues: if you look at the research (which has been widely misreported, in some cases deliberately so), that is in relation to gasoline/petrol and its fumes, NOT cosmetic- and food-grade mineral oil.

4. Mineral oil doesn’t clog pores. This is an urban myth. 0 on all comedogenicity indices. Probability close to 0. It’s one of the best-tolerated oils on even super-sensitive and fragile skin.

5. Mineral oil doesn’t hinder your skin’s ability to breathe any more than any other oil does. Clogging is mainly a matter of molecule size and pore size, combined with spreadability. I have small pores, which are not clogged by mineral oil (or, indeed, sunflower and the like). But clogged like crazy by coconut oil.

6. Oils don’t suffocate your skin and stop it breathing. Myth. This is to do with, again, molecular structure and how molecules are arranged. There’s a world of difference between an oil (any oil) and an impermeable material like, say, clingfilm. Try out the following experiment (needs an assistant): wet both hands. Apply even coating of oil to one (solid ones or waxes actually work best–coconut, shea, or indeed Vaseline). Wrap other hand in clingfilm. Wait. Look to see which hand starts wrinkling up and feeling horrid first.

7. While I often read and love [a source that was cited as authoritative, falling into the “seeing is believing” trap: if it’s been published, then it’s true, and it’s “an article.” SIGH.], I read it as a *blog*: it is categorically *not* a source of equivalent status to a peer-reviewed science journal. Just because something is published, online or otherwise, doesn’t give it any greater authority than any other human utterance.



An intermission, in the form of some  more links on mineral oil:



Uses of mineral oil: can be adapted to any other oil too; on sensitive skin, for most purposes, plain supermarket cooking-grade sunflower or safflower work just as well (and, given where and how they grow, don’t involve the de-rainforestation issues of peanut, palm, soybean, etc.).


1. I keep some mineral oil plain and simple in the bathroom, for use when/if skin is in disastrous condition and all else fails. Anyone with serious skin issues, fragility, sensitivity, irritability, contact dermatitis, eczema, … will probably know what I’m talking about.

2. Some kitchen/household purposes: cleaning stuff ex. stubborn grubby sticky bits on work-surfaces and window-sills; rubbing into wooden chopping-boards and cooking implements.

B. MINERAL OIL MIXED WITH OTHER OILS [more updated version = posts on here on the multi-purpose oil]
Otherwise, mostly (daily) I use mineral oil the same way as I use any other; indeed, my usual approach is to mix together a bunch of oils and use them as my Universal DIY Oil Blend, and mineral oil is usually there:

currently (fall/winter) =
1/3 vol mineral
1/3 sunflower or safflower
1/6 sweet almond
1/6 jojoba and borage (1/12 each)

spring/summer =
2/5 mineral
2/5 sunflower or safflower
1/5 jojoba

Adding more borage if skin’s very dry and/or eczematic. I’m currently on extra borage, maybe another 1/10 vol. Using different, heavier stuff for cuticles, hands, feet (olive oil, shea butter, etc.). I’ve also used sesame, avocado, rice bran, and others; I prefer non-odourous, long-lasting oils that also work on/with my skin.


1. eye make-up removal, esp for w/p mascara (BWC)

2. body moisturising, either at end of shower then rinse off (summer), or after shower, pat into damp skin, let dry (takes a couple of minutes)

3. shaving armpits; and legs too in summer

4. (winter/drier skin) mixed in with face moisturiser, just a couple of drops

5. occasionally, as pre-cleanse if wearing very heavy sunscreen or more makeup than usual (usual = none); then wash with regular face wash.

6. removing any stuff I’ve foolishly experimented with and that’s caused fast-onset irritation. Used like (5) above, but not using cleanser after, just lots of water and leaving slight residue on skin afterwards

More on notepad. More elsewhere, indeed. This really is just the tip of the iceberg–there’s loads more uses on babies, old people, seriously ill people in hospitals.

For many purposes (including many of the medical-grade uses), sunflower oil can be substituted as a more or less inert, non-reactive, sensitive-friendly, 0-comedogenicity, cheap, odourless, long-lasting oil.

Sesame and sweet almond to some extent too, though more expensive in most places.

There’s been quite a lot of research on this over the last ten years, with hospitals in India in particular, to find suitable alternatives that are cheaper, can be produced locally, and thus support the local/regional economy and reduce costs (and dependency) on foreign imports. J&J Corp. has as much of a stranglehold on medical use (hospitals, clinics, doctors–as opposed to the more cosmetic end of things) worldwide as it has in the US. With some rebellion in the EU, using domestic brands: some for mineral oil and petrolatum, some for plant-based alternatives–ex. Ovelle and E45 in the UK, Weleda etc. in Germany.

Sunflower seems to be the winner for liquid oils, and coconut (to a high degree–especially hospital use) as substitute for Vaseline/petrolatum.



My very own genuine bona and bonus review of mineral oil (and look: a top rating for helpfulness!!!)


  1. anna3101

    I’m afraid I cannot quite agree with you on that. Mineral oil for me is the same as parabens, preservatives and other stuff I don’t want in my cosmetics. It’s not natural – of course, we can say anything is natural because at some point it was somewhere in/on the earth and only later modified by humans, but that’s not really the same thing. Also, not all natural things are good for you – you wouldn’t want to eat poisonous mushrooms or treat your skin with poison ivy. I never noticed any benefits while I was still using mineral oil and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that now.

    • gingerama

      Thanks for your very thought-provoking response!

      Well, we may end up having to agree to differ on this one! A few responses in the meantime:

      1. Actually, like you, it’s the same for me as parabens & preservatives: in an ideal world, I’d be a lady of leisure and have servants make me up fresh skin stuff from entirely plant-based ingredients (grown sustainably by nice people treated fairly), and none of them would be necessary.

      But alas, we live in the real world. Some products need preservatives. There are lots of different kinds of them. The most natural, and oldest, are alcohol, vinegar, and cold.

      So: interrim solution (back to 1.): use fresh stuff where possible. And refrigerate in between–though that could be adding to energy consumption, and c/o making the fridge, though I’m assuming that most first-world people have a fridge anyway, and aren’t buying one specifically for beauty products.

      And use stuff that needs no preservatives: one reason I like bar cleansers (except traditional soaps are a disaster on my skin: still looking on that one…), oils (my current moisturiser), and things like shea butter for heavier moisturiser.


      2. Naturalness: I don’t get the point. Something is either entirely natural and used as-is (ex. plunging into a natural spring) or it’s natural but has been subjected to some human intervention along the way: ranging from
      —grabbing honey out of a vacated old hive and smearing it all over myself (use of human hands)
      —cutting open an avocado, scooping out the inside, and smearing it all over myself (use of 1 tool: knife)
      —via making a product using human mechanical power only: ex. some forms of olive oil
      —through the use of other raw materials and chemical reaction (ex. heating and melting oils, waxes, and butters together; making soap using lye)
      —to larger-scale combinations of the former pair, needing more power so using electricity

      My point, when talking about mineral oil, is usually threefold:
      (a) hoping to help people disentangle the (entirely normal, reasonable) emotional/survival-instinct “ick” factors: same source-material as substances that you can’t put on yourself, eat, or drink
      (b) ditto, drawing attention to the political point of liking Mom & Pop friendly small-scale local production (what used to be called “cottage industry”, not sure if the term’s still used) and disliking people (usually men) in lab-coats: fear of science by the un-/under-educated, fear of scientists (and their authority: an authority taken on trust and belief, a move no different, for most people, from accepting religion and its priests).
      (c) a sense of perspective: reducing the use of fossil fuels is far, far, far more important. Driving less, if at all. Sharing transport to lower costs, and using public transport. I have, I freely admit, extremely left-wing, collectivist, anti-individual-property attitudes when it comes to transportation.

      If the only use of oil crude was to produce mineral oil for use in cosmetic products where absolutely nothing else could be used instead: then little would be used. But I don’t believe there are any such products: I don’t see why other oils can’t always be used in formulae: other bland non-reactive ones like sunflower, safflower, meadowfoam, or heat-treated de-natured peanut.

      Colin’s blog has a really nice approach to these “ick” factors, seeing the mineral-oil business as an issue in evolutionary biology. Very human, very animal, very natural. But we’re also (OK, not alone in this…) creatures of mind and reason.


      3. ITA: not all natural things are good for you. Equally, not all unnatural ones are good for you either. Whether something is good for you (or your skin) or not has nothing to do with whether it’s natural or not: it’s down to chemistry. In theory, anything could be potentially synthesized in a lab. (On the other hand, yes, other reading aside, I do read too much science-fiction…)

      I think what happened there is that I was responsing to separate points/arguments with separate counter-arguments. The counters may well work separately and independently (or not, if someone decides they’re flawed and can prove it with counter-counters), but not necessarily together. This is fairly standard argumentative procedure (ex. legal). Just as with arguments again, say, mineral oil: they, too, should be treated as separate free-standing points; they don’t necessarily all fit together. That, too, doesn’t bother me: same argumentative rules for both sides in any debate, fair’s fair!


      4. Mineral oil: You’re not alone! I know, and have heard of, plenty of people who’ve had bad experiences with mineral oil. And with other oils. And there are oils I can’t use either. On face, coconut oil and cocoa butter are disasters, but so is straight-up petrolatum on the thinner-skinned bits of my face. Mammoth zits. The reason for that isn’t natural/unnatural (as you see, my skin is fine with some substances from each set, but not all from either, or all from both). It’s biochemistry. It’s the good old classic “your mileage may vary.”


      5. I should add here: at the point when I wrote the mineral oil posts (and, before then, was debating the point on MakeupAlley), I hadn’t discovered the joy that is medadowfoam seed oil. I use it exactly as I’ve used mineral oil in the past. Including on full eczema.

      In an ideal world–not as ideal as the one in (1) above–and as intended back in the 1970s, it (and its byproducts) (and its derivatives) would replace mineral oil in all cosmetic products. Just like mineral oil replaced whale oil. Meadowfoam ticks all the boxes: plant-based, sustainable, fair-trade and fair-labour.

      Now: I’m not one to subscribe to conspiracy theories usually, except sceptical ones of course! But given the historical timing, I do wonder if the US (Democrat-)government-backed meadowfoam seed oil experiment went the same way as the electrical car?

  2. anna3101

    Hmm… But don’t you think the cosmetics should be as much natural as possible? I don’t mind a small amount of a non-cancerogenic preservative if it really has to be put inside. But in most creams/lotions etc this amount is not small and apart from the preservative, includes a whole lot of other stuff not so necessary or not necessary at all. Like mineral oil 🙂 Why use it when there are so many natural oils around? I’ve never heard of meadowfoam, but the European oils I tested do the job pretty well: sunflower, olive, grape etc.
    However, I do understand that some people still want to use “chemical” cosmetics because their problems cannot be treated otherwise. This is the only agrument that speaks to me. I know how hard it is when you have skin or any other health problems. Although still, I’m pretty sceptical when it comes to the new (or old) wonders of pharmaceutical corporations or beauty companies…

    • gingerama

      1. Yes, I agree: should be as natural as possible: but so long as that doesn’t mean “greenwashing” that’s environmentally damaging. I feel sick when I see the likes of Dove, Neutrogena, Cover Girl doing this: throw a bunch of plant oils in, stick on stickers saying “now 80% natural/plant-based/organic”, give your packaging a green tint, and lo! you seduce green consumers to you… They’re the worst offenders: replace (cheap) mineral oil and its byproducts with (even cheaper) slave-labour deforestating palm oil. For these people, everything is the financial bottom line: minimum spending, maximum price, maximum profits. Ethics is just something to be used for PR, marketing, and advertising. That’s what makes such companies evil, in the strong moral sense!

      (and BLEH on gross abuse of correct scientific terminology and misuse of terms that are ambiguous to different audiences: bugs me especially on sunscreen, as “natural” and “organic” for decades 99% certainly meant “organic” in the chemical sense, i.e. stuff that means contact dermatitis and worse for me!)

      2. I also agree: less unnecessary stuff.

      3. Oils: ahhh, you have a treat in store with meadowfoam!

      But the fact remains: oils and how they work on individuals vary considerably. Some factors: skin’s physical structure (thin/thick, pore size/grain), pH, sebum production, hydration levels, dryness/oiliness, specific irritants, hormones, skin flora: yeasts, acne, forms of acne, forms of rosacea
      So: some people do well with oils that are low in oleic acid and high in linoleic (ex. sunflower). Some do better with other fatty acid compositions (sorry, this IS ALL CHEMISTRY… LOL…); many break out with olive oil, being higher oleic. And depends on where: what with skin varying from one part of the body to another.

      My own 2c? Love sunflower; can use olive oil around the eyes, on lips, on hands and feet and so on, but not on face. I can’t use grapeseed myself, as it’s too thin and drying (this is partly cos of the low molecular weight). Other oils I’ve used and liked: more on that multi-purpose oil. I’ve usually tried to use stuff that was more-or-less local: so while in the EU, I’ve used more sunflower; here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s meadowfoam. Well, local is one reason; being someone with seriously sensitive irritable skin, doing the job of moisturising without irritating is still no. 1… that would count as “health problems.”

      4. There’s a difference between products used for medical, functional, survival, health purposes–I think this is what you mean by “chemical cosmetics”?–and decorative cosmetics.

      If I were Queen of the World:
      (a) as a first step, I’d ban the use of mineral oil (and all sorts of real crap: formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, for one) in cosmetics. As in: makeup + skincare stuff that’s frivolous vanity. The 101 items of anti-ageing nonsense for starters: PEOPLE AGE. IT’S NORMAL. PROVES YOU’RE HUMAN AND NOT AN ALIEN / ROBOT / DEMON. I totally agree with you on those wonders of pharma/beauty companies!
      (b) After that, I’d ban it in other stuff: but for each ingredient and product, replacing it with sustainable plant-based alternative and testing properly first. To check they really do work properly as genuine alternatives. That do exactly the same. With skin health issues, this is vital!
      (c) It would be great to have green taxes: tax breaks for green companies and products, hefty taxes otherwise.

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