Mineral oils in cosmetics – how dangerous are they?


Stiftung Warentest raises the alarm: During a test, potentially carcinogenic substances were found in cosmetic products based on mineral oil. How big is the danger really?

An investigation by Stiftung Warentest is causing a stir. By accident, a body oil test discovered that a product contained critical substances – so-called aromatic hydrocarbons, or MOAH (Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons). They are considered potentially carcinogenic. Therefore, 25 other products based on mineral oil have been studied, including other body oils, creams, baby care, lipsticks, hair styling products, milking fat and vaseline. The shocking result: MOAHs were detected in all products.


Why is mineral oil used for cosmetics?

The use of mineral oils in the beauty sector is not new and even has many advantages: The raw material is very durable, cheap and does not cause allergies. Mineral oils are extracted from petroleum. The industry association for personal care and laundry detergents e. V. (IKW) writes in a recent statement : “Mineral oils and waxes are thoroughly purified before they are used in cosmetic products, and the quantities in which MOAH can still be obtained even after the highest level of purification are, according to our current state of knowledge, harmless to the Consumer.”


What do you know about MOAHs?

MOAHs have so far been reported mainly in association with food. In 2012, the Stiftung Warentest discovered that Advent calendar chocolate contained components of mineral oil. In fact, it has been known for some time that food packaging can deliver mineral oil components, e.g. B. by the printer ink. The European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) classifies MOAHs as “potentially worrying” as they may be carcinogenic. She therefore recommends that the inclusion of MOAHs be completely avoided.

In addition to MOAHs, MOSHs (“Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons”) were also found in some cosmetics products. Although there are no findings so far that this substance could be carcinogenic. However, there are studies that show that they can accumulate as small globules in human adipose tissue and in organs such as the liver, spleen and lymph nodes. 

For comparison, the lowest MOAH value for the beauty products was 0.005 percent. That’s eight times what was found in Advent calendars. Vaseline contains in part nine percent MOAH – equivalent to 15,000 times the findings in food. 

For this reason, Stiftung Warentest advises against lip balmbased on mineral oil. She also points out that even creams could get into the mouth, for example, through the hands.


Can MOAHs be absorbed through the skin?

There are currently different statements: The Stiftung Warentest complains that the previously common methods of investigation are not suitable. For their test results, “a method has been developed that has been tested for the detection of MOAH in foods”.

The IKW rejects the concerns of Stiftung Warentest: “Consumers can use cosmetic products containing mineral oils without hesitation.” Consumer safety is very important to the manufacturers of cosmetic products, and all raw materials used must be extensively tested and must meet the highest standards Of course, these requirements also apply to cosmetic raw materials based on mineral oil, and several studies have shown that mineral oils as ingredients in cosmetic products are safe and sound, and many have found that they do not cause cancer. ” But it also says that “

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has also spoken on the subject: “Health risks from the absorption of mineral oils in cosmetics through the skin are not expected for consumers according to the current state of knowledge,” said Professor. Dr. Andreas Luch, Head of Chemical and Product Safety. However, an opinion also acknowledges “significant data gaps”: “For example, there is a lack of robust data on skin mineral uptake, which is particularly indicative of long-term and repeated dermal exposure.” There are also gaps in the data on possible oral ingestion of hydrocarbons from mineral-based lipsticks or hand creams . “


And now?

The topic will certainly be extensively investigated in the coming weeks and months. Those who want to play it safe can identify products based on mineral oil based on the following ingredients: Cera Microcristallina (Microcristallina Wax), Ceresin, Mineral Oil, Ozokerite, Paraffin, Paraffin Liquidum or Petrolatum. If in doubt, the INCI database , where you can find out about ingredients, can also help . 

Another option is the use of natural cosmetics – here, mineral oils may not be used. Instead, vegetable fats or oils are used. Whether the product is really certified and thus free of mineral oils, can be seen on various seals .