Mineral oil in cosmetics: You need to know!

Light yellow liquid drips from a pipette into a yellow bottle illustrating mineral oil in cosmetics.

Paraffinum Liquidum, MOSH and MOAH. What was once petroleum is given grandiose names when it finds its way into cosmetics in the form of mineral oils. Mineral oils are very popular with manufacturers because they offer many benefits in skin care. But can consumers be harmed by mineral oils in cosmetics? What does the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment say about this? We provide the most important answers.

Is mineral oil natural?

At the beginning of mineral oil is a completely natural process: death. Plants and animals die at some point and are deposited on the ground. There, they are gradually overlaid by other natural materials and, with an enormous amount of time and pressure, petroleum is created from them deep in the earth.

Petroleum is the starting material for mineral oil, which is also a favorite in the cosmetics industry. However, what arrives on our skin as an ingredient no longer has anything to do with a natural product. This is because mineral oils - regardless of their use - have to be heavily purified. This process is called refining.

Why are mineral oils so popular in cosmetics?

The mineral oils in skin care products are so highly refined that the end result is a substance so unfamiliar to our bodies that there is no reaction at all on the skin. This has advantages: Mineral oils do not cause allergies. They also do not change the smell, are colorless and low in irritants. Vegetable oils, on the other hand, react with germs on our skin, so they can smell a little rancid after a while, for example. Mineral oils offer the cosmetics industry several other plus points: They are enormously inexpensive and have a long shelf life, which manufacturers always like, of course. That's why mineral oils have enjoyed great popularity in skin care for decades. They are found in many products, including classics such as Vaseline and Penaten cream. Oils and waxes are often made on a mineral oil basis. Even most baby oils were (and still are) nothing more than scented mineral oil.

How to recognize mineral oils in cosmetics

In the list of ingredients, mineral oils can be found under many different names, including the following:


Mineral oils in cosmetics have short-term effect

But there is a flip side to mineral oil: Because mineral oils are a foreign substance for the skin, they do not penetrate the skin. Instead, they form a film on their surface. This means that mineral oils hardly bring any active ingredients or vitamins into the skin, even if there are any in the formulation.

The mineral oil film feels good at first: it makes the skin soft and supple and locks moisture into the skin. This is good in the short term, but does nothing to regenerate the skin in the long term.

On the contrary, their natural regeneration processes are even slowed down. A long-term care effect is therefore not given. Because the skin remains just as dry and stressed underneath the mineral oil film as before.

A graphic shows the skin surface in close-up. On top is a film of oil onto which orange drops fall.

Stiftung Warentest finds MOSH and MOAH in products

Another problem has only crystallized in recent years. In 2015, Stiftung Warentest examined 25 exemplarily selected cosmetics that are based on mineral oil. The result was not without its problems: All of the products tested by Stiftung Warentest had aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH: Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons). 

Mineral oil is a complex hydrocarbon mixture composed of two chemical fractions: saturated and aromatic hydrocarbons (MOSH and MOAH for short). 

Health risks from MOSH 

The former, the "Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons" (MOSH), make up the larger proportion. In the case of some MOSH, it is clear that we ingest them through our food. In the body, they are sometimes deposited in an unfavorable way. Analyses have shown that one in four of those examined carried more than 5 grams of MOSH in their bodies. However, the deposited MOSH can cause granulomas, i.e. small nodules, in lymph nodes, liver and spleen.

Health risks from MOAH 

The aromatic hydrocarbons already mentioned, the (MOAH), are assessed even more critically. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assumes that MOAH have a mutagenic and carcinogenic effect. They are the smaller fraction in mineral oil, but since MOAH are considered potentially carcinogenic according to current knowledge, it is better that MOAH do not enter the body at all.

Mineral oils have a long tradition in cosmetics and are used in many "tried and tested" skin creams, some of which have been available for decades. However, the use of raw materials from mineral oil that meet the purity requirements of the European Pharmacopoeia does not seem to be sufficient to avoid MOAH and MOSH in cosmetics. This is because many products that tested positive for aromatic hydrocarbons by Stiftung Warentest contained only such high-quality mineral oils, according to the manufacturer. The test results of these products were nevertheless worrying.

What does the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment say about mineral oils in cosmetics?

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has evaluated the dermal uptake of mineral oils, or MOSH and MOAH, through cosmetics via the skin in terms of health. The result: According to the current state of knowledge - from the point of view of the BfR - health risks for consumers are not to be expected when cosmetic products are applied to the skin.

Absorption of mineral oils into the body

However, from our point of view, caution is required especially with cosmetic products through which MOSH can enter the human body. These include lip care and skin creams that are supposed to help with minor injuries or even burns. Because aromatic hydrocarbons can penetrate the body even more through cracked or open skin. 

Stiftung Warentest therefore advises consumers to make sure that such products do not contain mineral oil. For all those who would like to avoid cosmetics containing mineral oil, there are sufficient alternatives - beeswax or vegetable oils, for example - even if these may have disadvantages in individual cases, such as a higher risk of allergies.

HighDroxy does not use mineral oils in cosmetics 

In order to exclude any risk and to be able to offer our customers safety, we completely refrain from using mineral oils in the manufacture of our cosmetic products.