Wait—Is Baby Oil Low-Key Better Than a Luxe Hair Oil?

close up of baby oil on white background


The beauty world is filled with enticing-sounding ingredients: think Kakadu plum, evening primrose, baobab, black currant, and jojoba. Even hyaluronic acid has rebranded and just sounds refreshing. Alas, baby oil is not one of those ingredients. In fact, what it actually is—mineral oil—sounds even less glamorous.

What’s more, it’s super controversial. Proponents of mineral oil would say that in addition to keeping actual babies soft and moisturized with its emollient properties, it has a few other uses for us adults, such as using it to soothe dry, rough patches of skin. Those wary of mineral oil cite concerns including its petroleum origins, unregulated status, and potential to both harm the planet and irritate some skin types.

There’s truth to both camps in the great baby oil debate, but there’s also one point that few seem to talk about. While mineral oil can be comedogenic when it comes to skincare, can we take advantage of the super emollient, softening properties of baby oil on hair? Ahead, we talked to two cosmetic chemists about baby oil for hair, including benefits, risks, and a few products you can try at home.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Shuting Hu is a cosmetic chemist and a founder of Acaderma, a science-focused skincare brand that uses its position to help women in need with education and professional training. 
  • Krupa Koestline is a cosmetic chemist and the founder of KKT Consultants, which works with clients on developing safe, effective products with clean ingredients.

What Is Baby Oil?

Baby oil is simply mineral oil with a touch of fragrance. Mineral oil is a colorless, odorless substance derived from petroleum—often as a by-product of refining gasoline, which is then purified and refined into a cosmetic-grade substance (though, as many have pointed out, this process is fairly unregulated in the beauty industry). 

Being an oil, it functions as an emollient, which means it sits on top of the skin, preventing moisture loss. Because it’s so remarkably lightweight, many think it's a great moisturizer not just for adult skin, but tender baby skin, which is how the baby oil name came to be.

Baby Oil for Hair

Type of ingredient: Occlusive

Main benefits: Prevents moisture loss, smooths out flyaways and frizz, and detangles.

Who should use it: Coarse, thick, or dry hair types.

How often to use it: As often as needed.

Works Well With: Baby oil is an inert ingredient, meaning it doesn’t affect other ingredients.

Don’t Use With: Baby oil is safe to combine with most, if not all, ingredients.

Benefits of Baby Oil for Hair

While baby oil does have some benefits for hair—mostly thanks to its occlusive properties—not everyone agrees that these benefits are worth the risk. Mineral oil is controversial for being derived from petroleum, and while cosmetic-grade mineral oil has been purified, many argue that there’s not enough regulation to guarantee that the substance is free of carcinogens. 

With other options on the market for your hair oil needs, you have to weigh the pros and cons to decide what's best for you. “There are so many plant-based oils and butters that offer similar smoothing benefits, plus the additional benefits of fatty acids and antioxidants that are actually beneficial to the hair,” says cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline. 

It’s also worth noting that, health and environmental risks aside, mineral oil can cause skin and scalp irritation, so use it sparingly and watch closely to be sure it agrees with your scalp. All that being said, if you decide it sounds like a good option for you, a few main benefits are below.

  • Tames flyaways and frizzy hair: “Because it’s an occlusive, it can coat the hair completely to smooth cuticles,” Koestline says. That means less frizz and flyaways on finished styles. 
  • Detangles hair: With less frizz comes less tangles. Conditioned, moisturized hair generally tangles less, so those with coarse or curly hair may find that baby oil performs fairly well as a detangler
  • Seals in moisture: “Baby oil is generally known for sealing moisture in the skin, and it would have a similar effect on hair by sealing each cuticle and locking in the hair's natural moisture,” says cosmetic chemist Dr. Shuting Hu.

Hair Type Considerations

Despite feeling fairly lightweight, baby oil is a pretty heavy-duty occlusive, so if you use too much, your hair will get noticeably oily. “It should be used in moderation so it does not leave the hair feeling too oily and weighed down,” Hu advises. 

While most hair types can benefit from its smoothing and emollient properties, baby oil is best suited for coarse, thick, curly, or very dry hair.

How to Use Baby Oil for Hair

If you want to try it, Koestline recommends finding conditioners or treatments that include the ingredient, as opposed to using straight baby oil. “As a stand-alone product, it may be too heavy and greasy for most people,” she says. 

On its own, Hu recommends using just a few small drops after washing to seal in the hair’s natural moisture, detangle, and prevent flyaways and frizz. “I would only use it as often as you wash your hair—if you must apply between wash days, only use two or three drops to tame any frizz,” she says.

This is the product you’re most likely to already have in your home, and it’s super budget-friendly. Because it’s purely mineral oil, you’ll want to only use a few drops to tame flyaways, and leave any conditioning or mask treatments to formulas that have some other nourishing ingredients in them.

The Final Takeaway

Yes, there are some benefits to trying a drop or two of baby oil in your hair—mainly because baby oil is an occlusive that can seal in moisture and smooth out hair cuticles. But while you can use baby oil on hair in a pinch, if you're looking for a product to use regularly, know you have other options that will nourish your hair more deeply without the drawbacks. 

“There are just better plant oils and butters, like coconut oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter, that are better for all hair types without contributing to climate change,” Koestline says. “Mineral oil is petrochemical-derived, meaning it's environmentally irresponsible to use mineral oil when there are plant-based oils that are more sustainable.”

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