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Everything Experts Want You To Know About Mineral Oil In Lip Balms

Image by Prostock-Studio / iStock
March 8, 2022

Many beauty fans have a tried-and-true lip balm they simply won't leave the house without. But if you're on the hunt for a new staple, there's something you should know: One wildly popular lip balm ingredient has been associated with quite a few concerns—both for your skin and the planet.

Given that the skin on your lips is one of the most delicate portions of your face and you (likely) glide on a balm multiple times per day, it's important to be extra conscious of what's on the label. And while the modern beauty landscape is leaning toward a more sustainable future, some ingredients are slipping through the cracks, including the topic we're discussing today: mineral oil and petrochemicals. 

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Why mineral oil is popular in lip balms.

Mineral oil is a common ingredient in lip products because it's highly occlusive, so it locks in moisture. (You can find it in plenty of thick, jelly balms frequently touted for slugging techniques.) The mineral oil used in lip balms is cosmetic-grade and technically safe for skin, as opposed to technical-grade options, which are typically used to lubricate car engines. 

That being said, even cosmetic-grade options are still derived from petroleum, "meaning it's environmentally irresponsible to use mineral oil when there are vegetable and fruit oils, like coconut oil, that are more sustainable," says clean cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline about the ingredient. It also does not biodegrade well1 and can actually accumulate in waterways, which raises even more concern in regards to the health of the environment. 

And as we mentioned, mineral oil is highly occlusive, which can create a pore-clogging environment for some. "It more suffocates the skin than anything else," says board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of SKINFIVE. "The molecular structure is simply too large so it can both clog pores, cause a disruption or even damage to the skin barrier, and ultimately increase transepidermal water loss." See, you still need some degree of transepidermal water loss for proper skin barrier function, as it signals to your skin cells that it's time to jump-start repair; if there's no signaling, your skin cells may think everything is A-OK and won't repair. Essentially: Preventing transepidermal water loss completely can make your lips feel even drier in the long run. 

Given these environmental and skin care concerns, you may be thinking: Why would anyone use mineral oil, anyway? Well, mineral oil can give products a smooth feel when applying, which is appealing to many users. Not to mention they have pretty impressive staying power. Additionally, mineral oil and cosmetic-grade petrochemicals are generally inexpensive, which is appealing to many brands. But as we've said before regarding our clean beauty ethos: Just because an ingredient can achieve a desired effect doesn't mean it supports skin, body, or environmental health long term. 

What we use instead.

We know—not the most uplifting news. On the bright side, there are environmentally safe alternatives that are even better for your skin, some of which we included in mbg's lip balm. Remember those vegetable and fruit oils Koestline mentioned? Many of these contain healthy lipids and antioxidants to actively replenish the skin barrier, as opposed to just sitting on top of the lips to keep water locked inside. 

For example, mbg's lip balm calls on moringa seed oil to deliver fatty acids and antioxidants, as well as sunflower seed wax to form a protective barrier over the skin. Not only are these ingredients sustainably sourced, but they are also completely vegan (as opposed to balms with a beeswax base, which comes from bees). 

Another one of our standout ingredients is cocoa seed butter, which has a long history of use in a variety of cultures. This butter is top-notch for easing dry patches, as it deeply moisturizes—it's also what gives the balm its comfortable, plush texture. 

Another research-backed2 addition for thirsty lips is sodium hyaluronate, which is the sodium salt of the cult favorite skin care hydrator hyaluronic acid. However, this form of HA has a lower molecular weight than its counterpart, meaning it penetrates the skin even deeper. The result? Immediate hydration that lasts (thanks to the occlusives mentioned above), with a subtle plumping effect.

This combination of humectants, emollients, and occlusives creates a formula that truly hydrates your lips, softens flaky areas, and keeps them happily moisturized. That's what makes our formula a true lip moisturizer instead of a goopy, occlusive-only salve—it's actually going to benefit your skin in the long run rather than resting on top of the parched skin.

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The takeaway. 

If you pay attention to lip balm ingredients, you'll want to keep mineral oil on your radar. It's a popular ingredient housed in thousands of lip products, but it doesn't need to be—plenty of plant-based alternatives are better for the skin and the environment.

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Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.