Is mineral oil safe to use on your hair?

Mineral oil has been found in cosmetic and personal care products for 100 years or more, because it is an excellent lubricant that is lightweight and non-greasy. However, in recent years it has really fallen out of favor with consumers for a variety of reasons, among them being concerns about safety. It may also have been a victim of negative marketing simply because it is unpretentious and cheap, which is not necessarily advantageous to companies spending time and money developing new materials for hair care. Let's take a closer look at mineral oil and see what it is, where it comes from, and what it does for hair, so we can make informed decisions without the influence of marketing agendas.

What is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is a mixture of simple hydrocarbon molecules of varying molecular weight derived from the petroleum cracking process. It is a cheap byproduct found to be easily purified and useful in a variety of applications for which a lubricant is needed. Mineral oil is a mixture of medium-to-long chain alkanes (15 - 40 carbons) with the general formula of CnH2n+2. There are no other elements present in mineral oil. The molecular structure of these materials is very uncomplicated, extremely stable and nonreactive.

Petroleum Cracking

Crude petroleum is a huge organic soup, containing many different carbon-based molecules of varying molecular weights. The petroleum cracking process uses thermal and other catalytic means to break these molecules down into lighter, smaller molecules such as octanes, which are highly desirable as fuel because they are easily combustible and fairly efficient. Other components, such as larger hydrocarbon molecules that comprise mineral oil, paraffin wax, and petroleum jelly, are byproducts of this process and are separated out via distillation. More dangerous byproducts of the petroleum cracking process, such as benzene, are easily separated out due to the large differences in molecular weight.

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Tonya McKay

Tonya McKay Becker is a curly-haired polymer scientist and cosmetic chemist whose academic and industrial research experience have provided her with expertise in the fundamentals and applications of polymer science and colloid chemistry. She has long had a fascination with the structure-property relationships of the complex solutions used in hair and skin care products, and how they interact with and impact these remarkable biological substrates. Ever curious, Tonya has dedicated herself for more than a decade to honing her expertise on the science of curly hair, how it differs from straight hair, and how product ingredients used on curly hair affect its health and beauty. Her passion for sharing this knowledge with others has led to her current career of educating people from all backgrounds who share an interest in this exciting field.

Unfortunately, I feel as though mineral oil is counterproductive for my skin and leave-in products for my hair. I find it stifles my follicle pores and thus discourages growth and causes my hair to collect dirt. Therefore, my empirical evidence shows that it doesn't work for me and I can't be sold it.

My son is growing his short 4a hair out into a 'fro for the second time in his young life. He tried this last summer (with me assisting) and I was using a mineral oil based "hair grease" that had his hair full of lint and dirt less than halfway through the day. This article has enlightened me as to why (since MO apparently attracts dirt). Now he only uses EVOO on his hair and the lint and dirt is now non-existent. :) He also had dry, flaky scalp problems with mineral oil based "grease" but not with the EVOO...

elliepixie I know exactly which products you are talk about ;)

Interesting article. Although it has gotten a bad rap, I never thought that mineral oil was bad for hair, but if natural hair companies are charging $12-30 for product they should at least be using more expensive and beneficial emollients instead of making huge profits using cheap ingredients.

Thanks for the facts about mineral oil. Those facts definitely decimate several myths about it. I choose not to use mineral oil or products that contain it because it leaves my scalp itchy and greasy; and my hair greasy and dry.