Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Baking Soda – A Great Natural Exfoliant? November 26, 2012

I’m not someone who usually makes her own skincare products except for the occasional body scrub from sugar and oil (you can read about my misadventures in trying to make my own beauty products here).  I am very diligent about facial exfoliation though it has never occurred to me make my own facial exfoliant.  Yet again and again I’ve seen baking soda recommended as a DIY exfoliant (even Arm & Hammer recommends you do this).  So is it really ok to put baking soda on your face and scrub away?

I’ll turn to The Beauty Brains for some explanations from their post Is Baking Soda an Effective Natural Exfoliant?:

Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) falls under the category of physical exfoliants, and what makes it especially effective is that it is a fine, yet hard powder, making it highly effective at removing the dead skin cells without causing excessive irritation. Chemically speaking, baking soda is acid neutral, and acts a mild buffer which means that it has the ability to neutralize other substances it comes in contact with that are acidic (like vinegar) or basic (like soap). Many people also believe that baking soda has cleaning properties; however, scientific evidence has shown that this is due to baking soda’s physically abrasive nature, and it is not an effective anti-microbial agent.

Exfoliating with baking soda

To reap the benefits of exfoliating with baking soda, add a teaspoon of the powder to your facial cleanser, mix well, and massage into skin like you would with a commercial exfoliant. Do this 2-3 times a week or as per your regular exfoliation routine. If you notice that your skin is red or irritated afterwards, try putting in less baking soda and use the treatment at night so that your skin has a chance to get back to normal while you sleep. Remember to always moisturize afterwards!

Baking soda as an acne treatment

While there are numerous testimonials in which people claim that baking soda cleared up their acne when nothing else helped, please remember to take these statements with a grain of salt. We don’t know what else that person had changed in their skin regimen; it’s possible that besides using baking soda they also started drinking more water, switched their cleanser or moisturizer, or maybe even changed the number of times they cleanse their skin per day. Seasonal changes and stress levels also have a very strong impact on how much and how noticeable your acne may be. However, there is some evidence that baking soda may be beneficial in treating acne since just the exfoliating properties of baking soda alone lead to an increased skin cell turnover rate making your acne look less noticeable. Plus, baking soda’s neutralizing properties maybe reduce redness of the skin also reducing the appearance of acne. If you want to try using baking soda as an acne treatment, my recommendation is to use one teaspoon of it in your cleanser at night to exfoliate your skin, as well as make a thicker paste of just baking soda and water and apply it to the acne as a mask for 5-10 minutes or overnight (beware, when it dries the mixture will crumble so you might up wake up to a messy pillow).

The Beauty Brains bottom line

In summary, all signs point to baking soda being an excellent and cheap physical exfoliant. It is ph neutral and a fine powder, which means that it will be gentle on your skin. Baking soda may also be useful in treating acne when made into a paste and applied to the affected areas although there is not as much scientific evidence to back that up.

(As an aside I want to mention that I was actually taught, though I never tried it, while in esthetics school that if we didn’t have another way to exfoliate skin we could use a mixture of baking soda and water.)

I thought for the purposes of this post I should try exfoliating with baking soda.  I added about a half a tablespoon of baking soda to my gentle cleanser one night and gently scrubbed away.  I found the baking soda felt very harsh on my skin, too harsh almost, but my skin did feel very soft afterwards – if only for that night.  Because I found the baking soda too  harsh I would think twice before using it again.  (I should mention that I use prescription Retin-A on a regular basis so my skin tends to be more sensitive to exfoliating products)

Bottom Line:  As long as you aren’t using a lot of other exfoliating products you can try baking soda a few times a week as a mild scrub to exfoliate.  Just keep in mind that a scrub will remove surface dead skin cells and will not penetrate into your pores in order to unclog pores or dissolve excess oil.  I would definitely not believe the internet hype that using baking soda cures acne.  Keep in mind what The Beauty Brains had to say above about that phenomena.

Further Reading:

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Moisturizer Musings November 19, 2012

I came across a few things lately related to moisturizers that I thought would be good to share with my readers especially now that the weather is getting colder most places.

Future Derm recently addressed a number of common moisturizer misconceptions.  The issue I found most interesting was that of moisturizers with spf versus sunscreens:

Moisturizers with SPF versus Sunscreens

Incorrect Definitions:

I don’t actually know how people (in their minds) differentiate moisturizers with SPF from sunscreens. But I always see people give this distinction, without giving an explanation. For example, a reader recently commented that:

“… HOWEVER, the LRP is actually a MOISTURIZER with SPF rather than a straight sunscreen.So I was wondering if the PCA Sunscreen you recommend is moisturizing as well or would it require an additional moisturizer?…”


Now that we’ve defined what a “moisturizer” is, a moisturizer with SPF is therefore just a leave-on product that contains occlusive agents AND UV filters, and may also contain humectants, emollients, and other beneficial ingredients. What about sunscreens? I honestly don’t know what to say, except that sunscreens are the exact same thing. They can certainly be “moisturizing.” In fact, a common complaint is that “sunscreens,” especially those that contain inorganic UV filters like titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, are TOO moisturizing, greasy, emollient, and/or heavy. So I don’t understand how this distinction was imagined in the first place. I mean, anything with an SPF rating is measured the same way; a “moisturizer” with an SPF of 20 and a “sunscreen” with an SPF of 20, will both provide the same initial level of UVB protection.

Correct Definitions:

Moisturizers with SPF and sunscreens are the exact same thing: leave- on products that contain occlusive agents AND UV filters, and may also contain humectants, emollients, and other beneficial ingredients.

After reading the above analysis of moisturizers with spf versus sunscreens I thought – why did this never occur to me before!?!?  Truthfully I can’t say why I needed to read what someone else had written about this in order to realize that it was true.  The real key here is finding the right product for you and using it – make sure that you use it every day without fail and that you use enough of it.  A tiny drop of sunscreen (or moisturizer with spf) will not give you enough protection, and make sure you reapply throughout the day.  Sunscreen only lasts two to three hours.

The Importance of Moisturizer

Recently I reviewed the book Stop Aging, Stop Living by Dr. Jeannette Graf.  My review focused on Dr. Graf’s dietary and lifestyle advice and how an alkaline diet helps your skin look and function at its best.  When it comes to hands on skincare advice Dr. Graf’s is very straightforward and easy to follow.  I was struck by her insistence of the daily use of moisturizer for all skin types.  Here is her advice about using moisturizer during the day (pages 112-114)

It doesn’t matter whether your skin is dry, oily, combination, or normal.  You need moisturizer to replace moisture lost during cleansing and seal in that moisture so it does not escape.  Your skin type may affect what type of moisturizer you use, but not whether or not you use it.

Moisturizers replace lost water and hold it there with humectants (water-binding agents).  In other words, they add moisture to your skin and prevent existing moisture from escaping.  Although your skin naturally retains moisture through small molecular weight compounds called natural moisturizing factor (NMF), it needs a layer of fatty acids (lipids) above the NMF layer to seal in this moisture and prevent it from evaporating.  Showering, cleansing, sun exposure, wind, dry heating and air-conditioning, swimming, and other factors remove these fatty acids on a nearly constant basis.  If you don’t use a moisturizer to replace this lipid layer and seal in NMF, your skin’s natural moisture evaporates, resulting in dry, thin, tight, older-looking skin.  …

Look for a moisturizer that advertises an SPF of at least 30.  During the winter months, when UVB rays are weakest, you can get away with an SPF of 15.  This SPF will protect your skin from sun damage during short outdoor activities, such as going to and from the car.  Apply it first thing in the morning rather than waiting until you are ready to head outdoors.  Although glass blocks sunburn-inducing UVB rays, it does not block much of UVA.  Your SPF protection will last about an hour*, so reapply (or touch up your mineral makeup, which also provides some sun protection) before going outdoors later in the day.

Make sure the sunscreen and/or sunblock in your moisturizer is broad-spectrum, with wording on the packaging that says it protects against both UVB and UVA rays.  …  As an added bonus, any antioxidants in your moisturizer (vitamins C, E, grape seed extract, or green tea) will enhance the protection from your sunblock as well as provide protection from environmental pollutants.

Finding the perfect moisturizer may take some trial and error.  Try free samples whenever possible, and trust your instincts.  If your skin feels shiny or greasy, the moisturizer is too rich for your skin type.  If your skin feels tight and dry, it’s not rich enough.  If you have combination skin, you may need two different moisturizers – a gel or a sheer sunscreen for the oily areas and a thicker moisturizer for the drier areas.  If you have very dry skin, you may need to double your efforts, both using a rich moisturizer that contains no SPF or anti-wrinkle ingredients and applying a separate SPF product on top.  This first layer moisturizer should contain humectants and emollient lipids such as ceramides and evening primrose oil.  Evening primrose oil is the richest source of gamma-linolenic acid, a type of essential fatty acid that is soothing and particularly moisturizing for the skin.

As for the evening Dr. Graf has the following to say (pages 119-120):

Moisturize and Renew

Use a different moisturizer at night than you use in the morning.  At night, your skin is renewing itself, so you need a moisturizer that helps the skin to perform this important function.  That comes down to one important ingredient: retinol.  This highly studied skin care ingredient has been proven to even skin tone, promote elasticity, build collagen, and renew skin cells, promoting the birth of new skin cells as well as protecting the ones that already exist.  It’s the most important skin care ingredient, apart from sunblock, no matter your age, complexion, or skin type.

Retinol is a natural form of the vitamin A that is found in yellow and green vegetables, egg yolks, and fish oils.  It’s the most abundant form of Vitamin A found in the skin.  We learned about the benefits of retinol in the 1970s, when researchers began using it to treat acne.  They noticed a side benefit to people who used Retin-A (a very strong prescription form of retinol).  Their skin began to look younger.  Retin-A seemed to reverse sun-induced aging in the following ways:

  • Decreasing fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improving collagen production
  • Enhancing elasticity
  • Improving skin tone and texture
  • Enhancing skin lightening and minimizing age spots

It was most effective on the people who needed the most help – on skin that already had suffered lots of premature aging due to sun exposure.  Retin-A is not available over the counter.  You need a prescription for it.  Over-the-counter retinol moisturizers, however, have also been shown to reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging – and without all the irritating side effects of prescription Retin-A.

To choose a moisturizer, follow these tips:

  • To avoid redness or irritation, start with the lowest retinol cream you can find, slowly working your way up to increasingly stronger creams.
  • Look for a retinol cream that is formulated for sensitive skin.
  • Buy a cream from a respected company to ensure stability and safety.  Respected companies include Johnson and Johnson, Neutrogena, and Roc.
  • Don’t step using retinol once your appearance improves.  You need to keep using retinol to maintain the results.


So there you have it – two interesting opinions about moisturizers.  My take on the issue is that you should find a moisturizer that is right for you and use it.  How your skin looks and feels and the climate that you live in will definitely influence which moisturizer is right for you.  Just as Dr. Graf explains it might take some trial and error to find the right moisturizer for you but once you do your skin will thank you.


My Related Posts:


*Yes, I know that I wrote above that your sunscreen lasts two to three hours and Dr. Graf says one hour.  Who’s right?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that you should reapply your sunscreen throughout the day.


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Thursday Tips and Interesting Articles November 15, 2012

Today’s post isn’t one of my traditional posts.  Instead I just wanted to share some interesting articles and blog posts that I came across in the last few days.

Happy reading!

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Are Cleansing Wipes an Effective Way to Clean Your Face? November 12, 2012


All of us have been there – you’re tired and you have a face full of make-up.  All you want to do is go to sleep and the last thing you want to do is wash your face, yet you know that you should wash your face before going to bed.  At this point many people may use a cleansing wipe to clean their faces instead of facial cleanser and water.   But are cleansing wipes really an effective way to clean your face?  Can these wipes replace your regular cleanser on a nightly basis?

First let’s analyze just what cleansing wipes are.  In their book Physiology of the Skin (3rd edition) Drs. Draelos and Pugliese explain (pages 31-32):

Disposable face cloths

The first exfoliating pads led to the development of more gentle exfoliation provided by the disposable cleansing cloths.  These cloths are composed of a combination of polyester, rayon, cotton and cellulose fibers held together via heat through a technique known as thermobonding.  Additional strength is imparted to the wipe by hydroentangling the fibers.  This is achieved by entwining  the individual rayon, polyester, and wood pulp fibers with high pressure jets of water, which eliminates the need for adhesive binders thereby creating a soft, strong cloth.  These cloths are packaged dry and impregnated with a cleanser that foams modestly when the cloth is moistened.  The type of cleanser in the cloth depends whether strong sebum removal is required by oily skin or modest sebum removal is required by dry skin.  Humectants and emollients can also be added to the cloth to decrease barrier damage with cleansing or to smooth the skin scale present in xerosis.

In addition to the composition of the ingredients preapplied to the dry cloth, the weave of the cloth will also determine its cutaneous effect.  There are two types of fiber weaves used in facial products: open weave and closed weave.  Open weave cloths are so named because of the 2-3 mm windows in the cloth between the adjacent fiber bundles.  These cloths are used in persons with dry and/or sensitive skin to increase softness of the cloth and decrease the surface area contact between the cloth and the skin yielding a milder exfoliant effect.  Closed weave cloths, on the other hand, are designed with a much tighter weave and provide a more aggressive exfoliation.  Ultimately, the degree of exfoliation achieved is dependent on the cloth weave, the pressure with which the cloth is stroked over the skin surface and the length of time the cloth is applied.

Furthermore, the article Face Cleansing Wipes from Discovery Fit and Health explains:

Face cleansing wipes come in two varieties: dry wipes and wet wipes. Dry wipes require some water for use. A quick run under the faucet allows the cloth to create a foam when gently rubbed against the skin. The second type can be used anywhere because they are already moistened. Many of the wipes come in one large container, but some wipes also are individually wrapped for convenience.

Both dry wipes and wet wipes have a variety of ingredients that range from gentle moisturizers to strong exfoliants, which help remove dead skin for a smoother complexion. Some skin-nourishing vitamins found in cleanser cloths are vitamins B5, C and E. Some stronger wipes have salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide in them, which help remove oil and prevent acne breakouts. The cloths often have two sides, with the softer side used to clean and moisturize and the other to exfoliate. …

Another major benefit of cleansing wipes is their all-in-one ingredients feature. Some of the products have cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing abilities, which allow people who normally don’t spend much time on skin care to at least get those basic tasks done. And for those who normally partake of a full skin care treatment but don’t have time on certain days, they can still get those three steps done by simply using one cleansing cloth.

Many people consider hygiene to be another benefit. Unlike with a pot of cream or foaming wash that requires the use of your fingers, cleansing wipes allow the user to clean his face without worry of contaminating a container with germs by repeatedly touching it.  Even so, many traditional cleansing products have preservatives and antibacterial agents to prevent contamination, so cleansing wipes might not have as much of an advantage here as you might think.

Can A Cleansing Wipe Replace Your Cleanser?

I’m all for using cleansing wipes instead of not washing your face at all at night or for using them post workout, but keep in mind that convenience costs you lots of money.  It is much more cost-effective to invest in a good facial cleanser to use nightly.  Personally my face never feels completely clean when I use a cleansing wipe which is why I see them as a first step in a two-step cleansing process, not as a stand alone cleansing routine.  Cleansing cloths are an excellent way to quickly and effectively get rid of sweat after a workout or dirt and grim midday if your skin needs to be refreshed.  So having a package of cleansing cloths in your work-out bag is actually something I’m all for especially if you suffer from breakouts.  (Now you can save money by making your own cleansing wipes, but I can’t vouch for any of the “recipes” I’ve come across online so I decided not to include any in this post)

I still think that nothing beats the power of using the correct facial cleanser for your skin type and water in the morning and evening to clean your face.  But if that is something that you can’t commit to on a nightly basis or you’re on the go then it is better to use cleansing wipes instead of doing nothing at all.  (Of course if you find yourself in an extreme situation and have no water than by all means break out the cleansing wipes)

Further Reading:

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Why Does Mineral Oil Have Such A Bad Reputation? November 5, 2012

A very long time ago a reader asked me to address the issue of mineral oil in my blog.  I am just now getting around to writing this post.  My apologizes to that reader.

Let me start off with information about mineral oil that I found on the holistic lifestyle website The Chalk Board:

Toxic Tuesday Ingredient Focus: Mineral Oil (aka Paraffinum Liquidum)

WHAT IS IT? An extremely cheap & common petroleum derivative (refined crude oil petrochemical) which is found in 98% of skincare products sold in the US.

HEALTH RISK: Petrochemicals contain neurotoxins which damage the nervous system. Mineral oil forms a film on the surface of your skin that can not be absorbed, thereby blocking the pores and the skin’s natural respiration. It traps dirt and bacteria and blocks the absorption of vitamins/minerals/botanicals that may be in a product. John Hopkins University named mineral oil in cosmetics and moisturizers as the number two cause of aging (first being direct exposure to sun). It may also cause allergic reactions and dryness, as well as promote acne and other skin disorders.

Oy!  If I took everything I read at face value I would be throwing out my beauty products right now instead of writing this post.  Scary information, right?  Extreme information, right?  (I recently did a training with a very well known international skincare company during which the trainer repeated the same information about mineral oil that you see above)  So what’s the truth about mineral oil?  What was written above or is it something else?

In his book The New Ideal in Skin Health Dr. Carl Thornfeldt devotes three pages just to the topic of mineral oil.  He debunks the information above (pages 377-380):

One of the most widely used ingredients for moisturizers is the first controversial ingredient we will cover.  Petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly and white petroleum) and mineral oil have been much maligned from “natural” based cosmetics companies, internet consumer sites and other environmental groups.  These sources erroneously claim that petrolatum and mineral oil are terrible ingredients because they come from crude oil (petroleum) which causes harm to the skin by forming an occlusive oil film, thereby “suffocating” it.  Unfortunately for these sources, this claim defies known human biology. In the body oxygen is transported to the skin by the blood supply, and then diffuses into the epidermal cells – oxygen is not absorbed directly from the air.  Herbal mucilages have been used for wound healing to soothe, protect and heal damaged or abnormal skin for centuries.  These mucilages naturally mimic the occlusive activity of petrolatum and mineral oil.  However, the “suffocating” claim is never used to dissuade use of those types of products.

Mineral oil, also known as soft paraffin, is the liquid form of petrolatum.  All of these ingredients consist of mixtures of hydrocarbons that are byproducts of crude petroleum distillation; thus they are all actually organic, natural ingredients. …

Mineral oil reduces TEWL (transepidermal water loss) by 40%, is equally as occlusive as coconut oil and more occlusive than linoleic acid, yet it does not induce acne.  Mineral oil and petrolatum provide inhibition of excessive inflammatory activity superior to 1% hydrocortisone is treating soap induced contact irritant dermatitis conducted by this author.  It has also been documented these ingredients have anticarcinogenic and mild antibacterial effects.

Many of these misconceptions regarding safety and efficacy of these ingredients are directly related to the quality of the grade.  Technical grade is the least unpurified form of the oil, and is commonly used by machinists to lubricate engines and equipment.  It is known to induce contact reactions in 10-50% of the machinists.  Cosmetic grade is a more purified option.  The highest standard is United States Pharmacopeia (USP) pharmaceutical grade, which indicates that it is essentially free of impurities.  …

Prescription pharmaceuticals and some cosmetic companies do use the highest quality USP grade in their marketed formulations.  Cosmetic companies are not required to use USP grade, even though USP grade mineral oil and petrolatum are considered the safest, least irritating moistutrizing ingredients ever found in the skin care industry.  In addition, they are commonly used as a “vehicle” for most substances used in patch testing by dermatologists due to their nonirritating and nonsensitizing properties.  This is a medical diagnostic process used to determine if one is allergic to ingredients in products applied to the skin.

Neither pharmaceutical nor cosmetic grades of petrolatum or mineral oil are considered comedogenic when using the standardized comedogenicity testing.  With the highest comedogenicity rating at 5, these ingredients have tested at a 0-1 rating.  This rating indicates the increased impurities in lower grades appear to be the major cause of adverse reactions including comedogenicity, contact irritant and allergic dermatitis. …

As to claims that people react negatively even to USP grade petrolatum or mineral oil, to date all compounds used in skin care have at least one documented positive patch test response.  Even purified water applied to the skin may activate hives in people afflicted with a disease called aquagenic pruritus.  Thus, while safety testing is imperative, there can always be the exceptional patient that may react negatively to even the safest known ingredient.

If that information isn’t enough to persuade you that mineral oil in skincare products is ok let me present some more evidence.  The Beauty Brains debunked five long-held myths about mineral oil in their post The Top 5 Myths About Mineral Oil – Part 1:

We often see the advice that people should avoid mineral oil at all costs.

This idea is propagated by numerous “natural” companies. Well, this advice is just bogus. It’s not based on any scientific studies. Mineral oil is a perfectly fine ingredient and has been used in cosmetics for over 100 years.

Here are the top 5 Myths that companies tell people to make them afraid of mineral oil.

Mineral Oil Myths

1. Mineral oil is contaminated with carcinogens. While it’s true that some petroleum derivatives contain carcinogenic materials (like some polycyclic aromatic compounds) the mineral oil that is used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry is highly refined and purified. It’s purity is even regulated by the US FDA and other international regulatory agencies. There is absolutely no evidence that cosmetic grade mineral oil causes cancer. And there has been plenty of testing done to ensure that fact. We could find no published reports in any of the dermatological or medical journals indicating a link between mineral oil and any forms of cancer.

2. Mineral oil dries the skin and causes premature aging. Mineral oil works as a barrier between the skin and the air. It acts as an occlusive agent which prevents water from naturally leaving your body through your skin. It will not dry out your skin or cause premature aging. Quite the contrary. It will provide moisturization.

3. Mineral oil robs the skin of vitamins. Since many vitamins are oil based, people assume that mineral oil will pull them out of your skin. There is no legitimate scientific evidence that this is true. Mineral oil has no effect on the vitamin levels in your skin.

4. Mineral oil prevents absorption of collagen from collagen moisturizers. Collagen in your skin lotions and moisturizers is too big to actually penetrate your skin. Therefore, mineral oil will have no effect on whether the collagen gets absorbed or not.

5. Mineral oil causes acne. In some people, mineral oil can exacerbate acne problems. However, most people will not experience any problems.

So, if it is not for safety concerns, why would companies be telling you to avoid mineral oil? We’ll look at that in part 2 of our series.

The Beauty Brains Bottom line. Mineral oil is NOT bad for you or your skin. It is one of the best ingredients available in skin lotions and moisturizers. It is also 100% natural taken directly out of our dear Mother Earth.

Next I’ll turn to the blog Lab Muffin to further debunk a few mineral oil myths (From the posts – Is Mineral Oil Dangerous? Part 1 and Is Mineral Oil Dangerous? Part 2):

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 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.

Mineral oil is comedogenic and will make you break out – FALSE

Mineral oil appears on a large range of “comedogenic ingredients” lists. Once upon a time (well, in the 1970s), cosmetic companies noticed that a lot of women started getting acne from their makeup products. One scientific study on comedogenicity used the inside of a rabbit’s ear to test whether products caused pimples, and this quickly became the test of choice. However, later on, they found that sometimes the results on a rabbit and the results on a human were different. (Lab Muffin loves rabbits, and this made her sad, because an awful lot of rabbits got ear pimples for no good reason!)

A later study tested products containing between 0 and 30% mineral oil, and found that it wasn’t comedogenic on human skin. The best thing about mineral oil is that (unlike a lot of plant oils) it’s incredibly stable – it doesn’t oxidise, and stays liquid. In other words, it’s not likely to clump up later on, after reacting with oxygen and light, and clog your pores! However, this doesn’t mean that it won’t cause you to break out, since different people respond differently to certain ingredients.

It just sits on top of skin – it doesn’t moisturise! It suffocates your skin – PARTLY FALSE

There are three ways in which moisturisers moisturise – occlusive (covering your skin up so water can’t evaporate), humectant (grabbing water and keeping it next to your skin) and emollient (makes your skin feel soft) actions. Mineral oil is an excellent occlusive, so yes, it does just sit on top of your skin – but it definitely moisturises! In fact, scientists often use it as a standard for comparing other moisturisers. Of course, if you have dry skin to begin with, just putting mineral oil isn’t going to work so well (if there’s not enough water to begin with, there’s not much water to keep in!).

As to whether skin can be suffocated – skin is porous, but it doesn’t really need to “breathe”. What people usually mean by “letting your skin breathe” means washing off the dirty gunk from your pores… dirt can stick to mineral oil, just like it can stick to anything else on your face.

Because mineral oil is really good at being an occlusive, it’s possible that it can block certain nutrients in your cream from reaching your skin – the solution is to put on the active ingredient first, then cover it up with the mineral oil, and the mineral oil will keep that stuff on your skin.

Lastly, now that my sources have debunked the different myths about mineral oil perhaps you are asking yourself – if mineral oil is good for our skin why do I need another moisturizer?  Once again I’ll turn to The Beauty Brains to explain (from Why Can’t I Just Use Mineral Oil?):

Yashendwirh says…I’ve read here and several other blogs that mineral oil, vitamin-E and a few other very inexpensive products are both hydrating and non-comedogenic. Would that make them effective every day go-to moisturizers? That said, what is the benefit of spending anything more than the couple bucks it costs for these products on expensive moisturizer formulas?  Even inexpensive ones that are $10-$20 seem expensive compared to the $3 it costs for an absolutely enormous bottle of mineral oil? We know it works, why would we throw our money at anything else? Would I be doing my skin a massive disservice by forgoing my current moisturizer (clinique gel) in favor of using mineral oil long term?

The Right Brain replies

You certainly won’t be hurting your skin by using mineral oil but you may be missing out on some of the benefits of a fully formulated product. Here are three examples:

1. Balanced moisture
Fully formulated lotions contain water and ingredients that can attract water to your skin like glycerin. You won’t get that with just mineral oil.

2. Non-greasy feel
Compared to modern lotion formulas which feel nice and soft on the skin mineral oil can leave you feeling a bit, well, oily.

3. Special function ingredients
Creams and lotions can deliver sunscreens and retin-A which are both important anti-aging ingredients that you won’t get from just mineral oil.

Bottom Line:  Don’t let mineral oil scare you.  It’s an effective and worthwhile skincare ingredient.

Further Reading:

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