Mineral Oil and Dry Skin
Mineral oil is derived from petroleum. It is odorless and even more transparent than water. In fact, the "baby oil" that you see on drugstore shelves is really just mineral oil plus some fragrance. Mineral oil has been used in skincare formulations and cosmetics for well over 100 years and is still one of the most effective skin moisturizing agents around today, according to "Cosmetic Dermatology," by Leslie Baumann.
Mineral oil is what is known as an emollient, which means it smoothes and lubricates your skin by filling spaces between the cells in your skin, which helps to replace your skin's natural lipids. Oil-based emollients leave a slight residue on your skin and boast more staying power than water-based emollients. A moisturizer that has this oil will help trap and seal water into the outermost layer of your skin, according to University of Iowa Healthcare.
Mineral oil can be directly applied to your skin, according to UI Healthcare. It's best to do this after your bath or shower, right after a light towel-drying to partly dry your skin. UI advises against using the oil in the shower or tub, because it will make your tub too slippery. The oil can be applied regularly, especially in winter when dry skin becomes a common problem.
Mineral oil is popular in cosmetic formulations because it does not become solid and therefore does not clog pores, according to "The Complete Beauty Bible," by Paula Begoun. It's also valued because it does not often cause allergic reactions. In fact, both heavy and light mineral oils are on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's list of the most frequently used ingredients for cosmetics applications.
Some cosmetic companies have claimed that mineral oil is bad for your skin because it's derived from petroleum, claims Begoun, but once cosmetics-grade mineral oil is formulated, it bears no resemblance to the original petroleum. Some epidemiologic reviews have linked mineral oil with cancer, but they came from protracted exposure to industrial-grade mineral oil, which is different than the cosmetic grade oil, according to Baumann. Cosmetic-grade mineral oil is subject to strict standards for use and quality in the United States, according to "Significance of Tests for Petroleum Products," by Salvatore J. Rand.
People who are still skeptical about mineral oil and want a more "natural" alternative for moisturizing skin can try extra virgin coconut oil. A study published in the journal Dermatitis by A.L. Agero and V.M. Verallo-Rowell studied the effectiveness of both oils in treating the rough, dry skin condition called xerosis. This condition is associated with a defect in a person's skin barrier function, and it is treated with moisturizers. Mineral oil was the standard against which coconut oil was compared in the trial. The study authors concluded that the coconut oil was as effective and as safe as mineral oil.
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