Why Mineral Oil Has No Benefits For Your Hair
If you Google "mineral oil," the first thing that pops up are links to purchase this clear, odorless product. The second thing that pops up is a study about the effects of mineral oil, which can be used to make gasoline and other petroleum products, noting that it can be carcinogenic to humans. Following this are stories about the benefits of mineral oil when applied topically.
Needless to say, while the product itself is clear, how safe it is to use is less so. So to learn more about the potential pros and cons of using mineral oil on your hair and scalp, read on…
What Is Mineral Oil?
Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum, formed during the distillation process of petroleum that creates gasoline. There are different configurations of mineral oil, each with a different use. You won't find the same form of mineral oil in gasoline as you would in your hair products—but that doesn't mean that the mineral oil you find in your hair products is necessarily good for you. Mineral oil is a protective agent. It coats the hair shaft in a layer of hydrophobic oil to prevent it from expanding and contracting in response to water absorption, which can damage hair over time.
Is Mineral Oil Safe for Hair?
Yes, mineral oil approved for topical or ingestive use is typically deemed safe. The refined and purified forms of mineral oil used in cosmetics and skincare products are deemed safe for use. Typically, the mineral oil in your hair products is FDA-approved and marked as "food safe."
While it is technically safe for hair, it can damage hair over time and has no real benefits that make it worth using.
Why Is Mineral Oil In Hair Products?
Hair products that contain mineral oil usually advertise the ingredient as reducing water loss, helping to keep hair "hydrated."
However, FDA-approved mineral oil has been so refined that almost all benefits are shed from the ingredient. Mineral oil is highly refined to remove any pesticides, insecticides, and impurities. This means that it really has no benefit to the hair other than reducing water loss. It's derived from non-renewable petrochemical starting materials, so it has a sustainability footprint. And it can be difficult to wash out of your hair, particularly if using non-sulfate shampoos. This, over time, can cause the hair to become dry and brittle.
Studies also back up the lack of benefits in this oil. So why do brands continue to incorporate the ingredient in their products? Mineral oil is also used to help detangle hairs because it acts as a lubricant. It can hydrate scalp skin by trapping in water and minimizing its evaporation from the skin surface. In addition to helping minimize frizz and smooth hair, mineral oil can potentially help remove scalp scales associated with seborrheic dermatitis.
While there may be some benefits to mineral oil for hair, the damage is not worth it, especially with so many other hair oils available.
Mineral Oil Alternatives for Hair
Generally, we've concluded that mineral oil is best avoided when it comes to hair, but there are some great alternatives to help match the key benefits of mineral oil. Olive oil and argan oil can be used as alternatives to mineral oil. Olive oil contains fatty acids like linoleic acid, oleic acid, and palmitic acid that smooth and hydrate hair and antioxidants that protect hair from oxidative stress. Similarly, argan oil contains fatty acids and antioxidants like vitamin E. Fatty acids and vitamin E can help promote scalp health, and a healthy scalp can yield hair growth and other benefits.