Isoparaffin sounds a little scary—but is it actually a skin care ingredient you should be concerned about? The short answer is it can be. While some consider it good for formulations of skin care products, for most skin types, and especially for skin conditions, you definitely want to take a look at what this product is and if you should avoid it or not.
We give you the details on isoparaffin, including what makes it controversial, below.
What is Isoparaffin?
Isoparaffin is a branched-chain of saturated hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. Or, simply put, it's a type of petroleum-derived mineral oil. In skin care and cosmetics, isoparaffin is commonly found in moisturizers, sunscreen, lip products, foundations, cleansers, deodorants, makeup removers—pretty much everywhere. This is not only because it's used as an emollient to help skin feel and look smooth but also for formulation reasons; isoparaffin is a texture enhancer that can help create thick, creamy formulas that won't feel greasy on the skin.
And, because it's made up of just hydrogen and carbon atoms, it's not very reactive; it plays nicely with most other ingredients, another attribute that accounts for its popularity and prevalence in the skin care world.
Benefits of Isoparaffin for Skin
The benefits of isoparaffin all come down to its emollient and semi-occlusive properties, but it's important to understand that these types of benefits are only for normal skin types, not any other.
Emollient Ingredient: As an emollient ingredient, isoparaffin helps to repair the skin barrier by filling in spaces between the corneocytes, or dead skin cells, which are held together by a lipid matrix.
Keeps Skin Barrier Strong: Think of these cells as bricks and that lipid matrix as mortar; isoparaffin and other emollients help to fill in cracks in that mortar to keep the skin barrier strong and intact. And a strong skin barrier is essential for keeping potential irritants from getting into the skin and natural moisture from escaping.
Prevents Moisture Loss: Similarly, isoparaffin isn't that different from other ingredients that help prevent moisture loss, such as petroleum and lanolin. All of these molecules are too large to penetrate deep into the skin and instead sit on top of the stratum corneum, the uppermost layer of the skin, where they create an occlusive film or seal that locks in moisture.
Lightweight Feel: Isoparaffin doesn't come with the same type of 'smothering sensation' as you get with other, heavier occlusive ingredients. (Hence why it's so often added into rich and heavy lotions and creams, where it keeps them from feeling greasy or tacky.)
Side Effects of Isoparaffin
While it is considered a non-irritating ingredient, some skin allergies have been linked to isoparaffin, and that those with sensitive skin may want to take a pass. (When in doubt, patch testing any new product or ingredient on your inner forearm for a few days is always smart before putting it on your face.)
Isoparaffin on its own is a non-comedogenic ingredient, but it's still a good idea to avoid it if you have oily or acne-prone skin. As is the case with other similar, occlusive ingredients, it doesn't break down easily, and there's a risk of it trapping oil and bacteria in the skin.
Then there's the big, elephant-in-the-room safety question. While isoparaffin is considered a safe ingredient, there are some downsides to it. The Environmental Working Group ranks it at one out of 10 on their safety scale (with 10 being the most potentially dangerous or harmful). The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) has concluded it's safe for use in cosmetics, while the FDA even allows it to be used directly in some foods, for example, as a coating on fruit.
That being said, the safety questions come into play because this is a petroleum-derived ingredient. As such, there's a potential risk of trace contamination from a carcinogenic (read: cancer-causing) substance known as 1,4-dioxane. This comes with the risk of skin allergies in and of its own right, but it's also a neurotoxin, respiratory toxin, and kidney toxin. That's admittedly fairly concerning and is why you're unlikely to see isoparaffin in so-called "clean" beauty products.
Bottom Line: Use At Your Own Discretion
At the end of the day, keep in mind that isoparaffin is extremely common; most skin care products contain, at the very least, a small amount. And yes, if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin (or are trying to stick with squeaky-clean products), you may want to take the time to read ingredient labels and steer clear of it as much as possible.
On the flip side, if you have extra dry, flaky skin, it’s considered benetifical from its emollient properties, but you should be aware of what mineral oil-based ingredients actually do to dry skin. But broadly speaking, most of us can consider this an ingredient that falls more into the neutral category than anything else. It's neither an ingredient you need to seek out nor is one that you need to avoid, unless you have certain skin types or skin conditions.
To leave you with 3 of the most common questions about isoparaffin, let these be the deciding factor on if you should use products with it or not.
Is isoparaffin safe to use on skin?
Isoparaffin is considered to be non-irritating to skin, and the EWG rates it as a one (on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the most harmful). That being said, there is a chance that it could be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen.
Does isoparaffin cause acne?
Isoparaffin is considered a non-comedogenic ingredient, but as an occlusive ingredient, it can trap harmful dirt and bacteria in the skin, which can lead to breakouts and acne.
What does isoparaffin do?
Isoparaffin is an occlusive, emollient ingredient that helps soften skin and prevents moisture loss.
For skin care products that don't contain isoparrafin or other negative ingredients, shop Wild Naturals today!