Mineral oil gets quite a bad rap... why? We're going to take a look at the most common reasons people give for why you should avoid mineral oil this week in a 2-parter:
1. Mineral oil comes from crude oil... I'm not putting gasoline on my face! - FALSE
While it's true that mineral oil comes from crude oil, it doesn't mean that its properties are the same, or even similar to gasoline!
Crude oil is formed when biological material (from algae and plankton) gets buried under the sea. Over millions of years, the pressure transforms the carbon-containing compounds in the once-living tissue into the carbon-containing compounds which make up crude oil.
Crude oil contains of lots of different things, mainly made up of carbon and hydrogen only. After it's been pumped out of the ground, it has to be refined to separate out the different bits.
Apart from mineral oil and gasoline, things that come from crude oil include paraffin wax (found in most candles, and in cheese wax) and asphalt/bitumen. And as you know, candles and gasoline and asphalt are completely different! So just because it comes from the same stuff at the beginning doesn't mean it'll look, act or be the same.
Separating mixtures of chemicals is actually very interesting - there's a brief introduction here.
2. Mineral oil is full of carcinogens, using mineral-oil containing creams is going to give you cancer! - PARTLY TRUE
Crude oil contains a lot of different things, and some of them are quite carcinogenic (cancer-causing)! If you're trying to separate it out into different products, it has to be done carefully to make sure you get the nasties out. In fact, the World Health Organisation classifies untreated or lightly treated industrial-grade mineral oil as known carcinogens, and there are many studies linking inhalation of industrial-grade mineral oil to various cancers. However, the stuff in your cosmetics and in the food aisle is of a different grade, and has been purified to remove carcinogens.
A similar situation is with castor oil. I like to use castor oil as an example, because it's something that natural skincare advocates use without thinking twice, but its story is quite similar to that of mineral oil!
Castor beans (technically seeds) come from the castor oil plant:
They look harmless enough, but they contain ricin, a deadly poison - 1.76 mg will kill an average adult, if injected or inhaled (that's about as much powder as you can squeeze on the head of a pin). Eating 5-20 of these beans will kill you, in a very painful way.
However, these seeds also contain castor oil, which after processing to remove the toxins is completely harmless, on your face or in your stomach (except if you drink too much, in which case it does what any oil will do and makes you poop like crazy). It makes no sense to me why some natural companies tell you to stay away from mineral oil, but are perfectly fine with castor oil, if they don't trust that separating chemicals is effective.
The reason so many people are instinctively against mineral oil seems to be because of a widespread misconception that natural = good or at least won't hurt you, man-made = toxic, which simply isn't true! Every chemical, man-made or natural, should be assessed on its own merits - which is a pain in the butt compared to the much simpler formula above, but a lot more sensible. If you missed it, I made a post last year on natural vs. chemical, which explains my position on the subject.
Does mineral oil work for you?
Tune in for Part 2 Sunday/Monday depending where you are!