For several years now, mineral oils have had a bad reputation. Mainly because these raw materials are derived from petroleum and are not natural. Is this enough to really be afraid of them? What should you know about mineral oils?

Petroleum? What’s that all about?

You’ll find many different names of mineral oils out there. The most popular ones are: petroleum jelly (Petrolatum), paraffin (Paraffinum Liquidum), and ceresin (Ceresin). They’re produced by distillation from a specific fraction of petroleum. Although petroleum is extracted from natural resources, the final product is synthetic due to its multi-stage purification. Mineral oils are characterized by very high purity and stability, which is required by the laws that determine which substances can’t be present in the final product even in the form of impurities. This translates into great safety of the raw material, which very often achieves pharmaceutical quality.

Mineral oils are some of the oldest raw materials used in various sectors of industry. In pharmacy and medicine, paraffin has even been administered orally for digestive problems. But most often they’re used in skin products – creams, oils, and ointments. Petroleum jelly is the most popular ointment base for medicines and medical devices. For many years, mineral oils have been used in cosmetics and medicines, which makes them some of the best tested raw materials – they offer a very high level of safety and are recommended for the care of dysfunctional, sensitive, and children’s skin.

Mineral oils in cosmetics – yes or no?

Mineral oils are raw materials that belong to a group called emollients. Their distinguishing feature is that they’re raw materials that have unique transepidermal water loss inhibiting properties no other emollient has. Due to the fact that they have a different structure, they don’t match the epidermis and have only a superficial effect, thanks to which they form extremely effective and long-lasting occlusions on the skin helping it to restore its natural functions. Paraffins have excellent lubricating properties, resulting in an increased indirect moisturizing effect, and if you add some humectants to them (moisturizing compounds that are water-soluble) they can have a great influence on the overall hydration of the epidermis. What’s more, they’re completely neutral for the skin and the chance that they’ll cause an allergic reaction is minimal.

The only contraindication is the use of mineral oils in products for the care of acne-prone, oily, or seborrheic skin, especially when it has inflammations. When it comes to those kinds of skin, such a strong occlusion is not advisable and you should pick slightly lighter emollients. In those cases mineral oils may be comedogenic and acnegenic (causing inflammations and blackheads). Also, preparations containing paraffin may look shiny on the skin, making it seem more oily.

Mineral oils are wonderful raw materials when you want to maximize the safety of your cosmetic and minimize the risk of allergies to the given product. As with silicones, you need to be aware of why paraffins are added to the cosmetic and whether or not they’re in there for a good reason.

Because of the growing trend toward natural cosmetic products, some groups of raw materials have (quite often unfairly) built up a bad reputation. After mineral oils and parabens, silicones took the worst beating. Often no consideration was given to whether those opinions were supported by any scientific evidence or literature data, or whether certain raw materials were suitable for a specific skin or hair application.

A brief history

Although the first application of silicones was limited to using them as lubricants for engines, a few years later they were properly refined and approved for use as a cosmetic raw material. The first product on the market was a foundation by Revlon, which was distinguished not only by its durability but also by its great sensory properties, spreadability, and the light feeling that it left on the skin. Volatile silicones also started being used in perfumery – they were an alternative to the classic alcohol-based perfumes. Their next sector would be hair products. In those cosmetics, silicones were used as conditioners and emollients immediately smoothing hair and giving it luster. Owing to their versatility and effectiveness, silicones were very popular in cosmetics, all the more so since they were a cheap raw material and products could be formulated that were inexpensive and pleasant to apply.

A bit of chemistry – what exactly are silicones?

Chemically speaking, silicones are polymers formed by alternating silicon and oxygen atoms. Even though silicon is usually obtained from sand, the final product is not natural, of natural origin, or biodegradable. This is the reason why they’re not allowed in natural products. Many consumers believe that silicones are just unnecessary fillers devoid of any properties beneficial to the skin. The truth is quite different: silicones are a great alternative to mineral oils, which may not work for some skin types. Silicones create a light, delicate occlusion, thanks to which water evaporation from the epidermis is slightly reduced. Also, a silicone product spreads better.

Differentiation and properties of silicones

Silicones are a large group of raw materials, which includes compounds that have various structures and thus also various names and properties. The most characteristic parameter of silicones is their volatility, which determines their protective and application properties. Their common features are quick spreading and low surface friction, which ensure hair and skin smoothness and softness to the touch. As they are permeable, they don’t clog skin pores and usually don’t weigh hair down, while their low thermal conductivity guarantees very good protection against the heat coming from a hairdryer or other styling devices. In most cases silicones are not used alone, but rather in mixtures that complement each other and act synergistically.

Volatile silicones are noted for fast (from several minutes to several hours) evaporation from the skin surface, which makes the product formula lighter and quickly absorbable. Cosmetics based on this type of silicone do not build up, do not weigh down the skin or hair, so they can be used as needed without worrying that they’ll make them greasy faster or block skin pores. Their conditioning properties are a great advantage – hair becomes smooth, shiny, and wispy, while the skin is silky with an even texture. In color cosmetics there’s no equivalent that could produce the same effects as silicone. It determines how long fluids, foundations, mascaras, lipsticks, and many other cosmetics can be worn. When putting a cosmetic on, volatile silicones make it easier to apply and spread, after which they evaporate and leave the pigment on the skin.

Volatile silicones are most commonly found under the names of: Cyclomethicone, Cyclohexasiloxane (D6), Cyclopentasiloxane (D5), Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), but there are plenty more. They have a cyclic structure (as the “cyclo-” prefix suggests) and this is what makes them volatile.

Silicone oils, which are liquid substances, are most often used to improve the sensory properties of a product by eliminating the feeling of greasiness and stickiness. Unlike volatile silicones, oils leave an occlusion on the skin that is neither acne- nor comedogenic (they don’t cause inflammations or blackheads). Silicone oils are used primarily in color cosmetics where a high degree of coverage is important, but the product is lighter together with volatile silicones. Because silicone oils remain on the skin, thorough makeup removal with a micellar liquid, cleansing oil, milk, or dual-phase fluid is crucial. Next, the face should be washed with water adding a surfactant (washing gel or foam). These raw materials can be found under names such as: Dimethicone, Trisiloxane, Dimethiconol, Amodimethicone.

Conscious haircare with the use of silicones

In haircare products, silicone oils have a thermo-protective effect, and give hair smoothness and luster. The disadvantage of silicone oils is that they build up on the skin and hair. This can lead to a greasy scalp sooner, as well as hair that becomes dull and dry. If you want to cleanse your scalp and hair well, use a strong shampoo 2–3 times a week and regularly scrub the scalp to prevent its dysfunction. Shampoos containing silicones that are less volatile are best used occasionally when you want smooth, shiny hair. Masks and conditioners with silicones are a better solution, especially when applied from the ear down. The best way to quickly improve the appearance and smoothness of your hair is to use silicone serums – hair doesn’t pick up static, and is well protected against friction and unfavorable temperatures. If you want to nourish your hair a little bit, you can apply a small amount of vegetable oil before applying the serum. Remember that all haircare and conditioning treatments must be performed before applying a silicone product.

When it comes to long-lasting and covering makeup products, look for cosmetics that contain silicones in various mixtures of more and less volatile ones, which will make the product lighter but with good coverage. In addition to providing coverage, they’ll be resistant to sweat and humidity from the air. As regards daily care of the skin on your face and the rest of the body, cosmetics containing silicones are better for daytime use when the product needs to be absorbed well without leaving a greasy film. Products with UV filters are definitely better in terms of application when using silicones.

Legal restrictions

As of 31 January 2020, Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) and Cyclopentasiloxane (D5) have been restricted in the manufacture of cosmetics. This is due to the entry into force of Commission Regulation (EU) 2018/35 amending Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006. According to said document, cosmetics that contain these two raw materials in amounts equal to or greater than 0.10% (products that are washed off with water) must not be placed on the market. This is because such products are kept on the skin for a few minutes after application, so the volatile silicones don’t have enough time to evaporate and are flushed down the drain. Afterwards, they pollute the aquatic environment because they’re not biodegradable. The Cosmetics Europe recommendation of October 21, 2015 clearly states that it’s “recommended to discontinue, in wash-off cosmetic products placed on the market as of 2020, the use of synthetic, solid plastic particles used for exfoliating and cleansing that are non-biodegradable in the marine environment”, and since silicones are non-biodegradable their use has been restricted.

Anna Kuczyńska

With the increasing choice of cosmetics being sold, people reach for them more often, sometimes only because of their smell or appearance. However, frequent use of cosmetics, especially in excessive quantities, may result in allergic reactions on the skin.

A skin allergy is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to a specific substance that may occur in food, cosmetics, laundry detergents, or nature – for example, the pollen of grasses and trees. An allergic reaction can happen either immediately after contact with the allergen, or some time later.

Which ingredients in cosmetics are most likely to give you an allergic reaction? Preservatives and fragrance compositions, both natural and synthetic, which are contained in most products. A list has been compiled of 26 allergens that must be disclosed on the packaging of a cosmetic product if they exceed 0.01% by weight of a rinseable product (shampoo, soap) or 0.001% of a non-rinseable one (cream, lotion). That list is helpful in identifying which allergen may be harming you. But many people are allergic also to other raw materials, such as essential oils or plant extracts. This shows a correlation – cosmetics of natural origin cause allergic reactions the most often.

People who suffer from skin allergies should limit the use of products containing any potential allergens and opt for cosmetics that are labeled as “hypoallergenic”. But what does that mean? Can any cosmetic have a claim on its packaging saying that it’s hypoallergenic? Well, such a claim may be used only in cases where the cosmetic product has been developed with a view to minimizing its allergenic potential. The person responsible for the product being released on the market should have reliable evidence to substantiate this claim. It may be literature data, dermatological and application testing, scientific studies, market information, adverse reaction and serious adverse reaction reports. However, there are no clear guidelines on the type of tests that need to be performed. The most common tests are dermatological tests on sensitive skin and application tests also on volunteers with a positive allergic history.
At the stage of formulating the product, it’s important to avoid inclusion of any known allergens and their precursors, in particular mixtures:

• identified as sensitizers by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) or its predecessors that assessed the safety of cosmetic product ingredients
• identified as skin sensitizers by any other official risk assessment committee
• classified as skin sensitizers of category 1, subcategory 1A or subcategory 1B pursuant to the new criteria established by the CLP Regulation
• identified by the company based on an evaluation of consumer complaints
• generally recognized as sensitizing substances in scientific literature
• or for which no relevant data on sensitizing potential are available.*

Given the above conditions, the formulation of a hypoallergenic cosmetic must be very well thought out and the ingredients must be properly and rigorously selected. Still, you should remember that the use of the “hypoallergenic” claim does not guarantee complete elimination of the risk of an allergy because every skin reaction is individual and each user of the cosmetic may be allergic to something else. Therefore, it’s worth designing the product label and communication in such a way that it doesn’t give the impression that the product is 100% sure not to cause a negative body reaction.

To additionally minimize the risk of skin allergy, the most important thing is to observe your own body and choose the right cosmetics by trial and error. For starters, eliminate any dyes, fragrant substances, and some preservatives. If this doesn’t help, then go for products with the shortest possible list of ingredients and those that have been tested on sensitive or atopic skin.

Anna Kuczyńska


Naturalness and ecology are doing great not only in the food industry, but also in the cosmetics industry. The natural and organic cosmetics market is growing year on year, thanks to not only increasing consumer awareness or interest, but also the expanding range of those products on the shelves of beauty supply stores.

Many consumers associate natural cosmetics with those that are healthier, more effective, and less harmful to the environment. In the time of a pandemic, people want to take better care of their health and well-being, they more often think about immunity and, consequently, they also want to choose higher quality cosmetics that are less processed and more natural. A consequence of consumers’ ecological choices is greater interest in product characteristics such as “less waste”, i.e., reduction in the amount of waste produced as a result of using cosmetics, or “waterless”, meaning products in the making of which water consumption was reduced, for example, soaps, shampoos, and hair conditioners that take the form of bars.

With the ecological approach to cosmetic products, consumer awareness will continue to grow. Apart from analyzing ingredients listed in accordance with the INCI, they’ll want to verify that a brand operates ethically by choosing ingredients, production processes, and packaging that are not harmful to the natural environment. Cosmetics users will pay attention to ensure that the product’s composition is as simple and safe as possible, but also that it’s not a threat to water resources or oceans.

In addition to consumers acting on their own, they want cosmetic brands to be truly transparent and provide education / constant access to information saying on what basis any specific marketing claims have been put on their packaging. This includes the effects of a preparation as well as the reason why the product has been declared to be natural or organic, cruelty-free or vegan.
Cosmetic brands are facing a big challenge to meet the expectations of ever more conscious and demanding consumers. They have to build trust, ensure that a cosmetic is safe, thoroughly tested, and that its ingredients and packaging don’t pollute the environment.