Is Mineral Oil Really That Bad for Your Hair? We Asked Experts to Weigh In

Close up of drops of mineral oil on a pink background

Liz DeSousa / Byrdie

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, specifically, we turned to board-certified dermatologist Brendan Camp, MD, and trichologist Isfahan Chambers-Harris, MPH, Ph.D. Read on for what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

  • Brendan Camp, MD, is a double board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology at MDCS Dermatology in New York City.
  • Isfahan Chambers-Harris, MPH, Ph.D., is a trichologist and founder of Alodia Hair Care.

What Is Mineral Oil?

"Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum, formed during the distillation process of petroleum [that creates] gasoline," explains Chambers-Harris.

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," Camp shares. "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 experts share. "The refined and purified forms of mineral oil used in cosmetics and skincare products are deemed safe for use," Camp shares. Typically, the mineral oil in your hair products is FDA-approved and marked as "food safe."

While it is technically safe for hair, the experts continue to emphasize that 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," emphasizes Chambers-Harris. "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," shares Camp. "[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."

The experts note that 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," Camp shares. "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.

"Avocado, jojoba, and coconut oil are all great alternatives," Chambers-Harris adds. "They can reduce water loss and provide nutritional benefits to the hair."

  • Can mineral oil help with protein loss in hair?

    No, studies confirm that mineral oil does not help at all with the loss of protein in hair.

  • Can mineral oil cause acne?

    Yes. "While generally considered non-comedogenic, thick layers of oil on the

    skin can potentially contribute to acne formation," notes Camp.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Humans IWG on the E of CR to. Mineral Oils, Untreated or Mildly Treated. International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2012.

  2. Rele, Aarti S, and R B Mohile. “Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.” Journal of cosmetic science vol. 54,2 (2003): 175-92.

  3. Rele, Aarti S, and R B Mohile. “Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.” Journal of cosmetic science vol. 54,2 (2003): 175-92.

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