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  • Matthew Smith

Common Oils and Alternatives Used in Cosmetics

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

A cosmetic product is any product that comes direct in contact with your skin. These products can include shampoo, skin creams, lotions, makeup, face wash, and any other product that is somehow meant to change or improve the appearance of your face or body.

Cosmetic products generally contain hundreds of different ingredients. In the United States for example, there are over 12000 different chemicals that are currently being used in the cosmetic products being sold in the market.

Most cosmetics comprise of roughly 10-50 different constituent ingredients. On average, a woman in the United States uses about 15 separate cosmetic products daily. This means that each woman uses over 500 separate chemicals on their skin in just a span of a single day.

The main elements that every sort of cosmetic contains are water, preservatives, emulsifier, color, fragrance, emollient, pH stabilizers, and thickener.

Another crucial ingredient that is used in almost all cosmetics today is oil. In fact, most facial cleansers, lotions, and even hair care products contain hydro carbon molecules that come from mineral and vegetable oils.

Most foundations, sun protection lotions, Vaseline, nail care products and hair gels contain a very high content of oil, ranging somewhere between 1 to 99%.

Which Oils Are Used In Cosmetics?

Most cosmetics comprise of either mineral oils or vegetable oils. For years, there has been a reliance solely on mineral oils, but recently, there is a shift towards using vegetable oils in cosmetic products.

Why Is Mineral Oil Used In Cosmetics?

Mineral oil is extremely refined oil that is derived from petroleum. Importantly, the oil in cosmetic products is far more refined that that which is used by cars.

The primary reason mineral oil is used in cosmetic products is that it has properties that make it particularly suitable to be used in cosmetics. For example, mineral oil use has not caused an allergic reaction in most people. Additionally, mineral oil does not clog the pores of your skin.

In fact, according to many studies, mineral oil, and its partly solid form called petroleum (or sometimes Vaseline), are two of the most moisturizing ingredients that most cosmetics contain.

Mineral oil products that are most commonly used in cosmetics include liquid paraffin, petroleum oil, liquid petroleum, paraffin oil, liquid paraffin, white oil and white mineral oil.

In fact, the famous baby oil sold by Johnson and Johnson is simply mineral oil that has been perfumed.  Similarly, the popular 8-hour cream sold by Elizabeth Arden is made of petrolatum, a hydro carbon product that also comes from mineral oil.

Even companies such as Nivea rely on mineral oil as the key ingredient in their creams and lotions because of its moisturizing properties. Nivea claims to use high quality mineral oils in almost all of their products, owing to the moisturizing and cleansing properties of mineral oil.

Another great quality of mineral oils that make them ideal for use in cosmetic products is that mineral oil products do not tend to penetrate the skin. Instead, they remain on the skin and prevent it from losing unnecessary moisture.

For these reasons, mineral-oil based cosmetics are ideal for those who have dry skin in general, or in the colder winter months.

What Are The Problems With Mineral Oil?

In recent years, many people have been protesting against the use of mineral oil in cosmetic products. There are two main arguments put forth against mineral oil use in cosmetics – that it is harmful to the environment and that it can possibly contain contaminants.

Mineral oil is extracted from a non-renewable resource. As such, protestors claim that it is not sustainable and cannot be used indefinitely in cosmetic products, because this is damaging to the environment.

Similarly, protestors claim that mineral oil is impure and contains contaminants and even carcinogens. Because of the widespread protests against mineral oil, there was a shift towards using vegetable oils in cosmetic products instead.

Why Is Vegetable Oil Used In Cosmetics?

Lately, as people spoke out against the use of mineral oil in cosmetic products, there has been a shift towards using vegetable oils in cosmetics instead.

Many cosmetic producers are now opting for olive oil or coconut oil in their products. These oils are considered free from contaminants and more ‘natural’ alternatives to mineral-oil based cosmetics.

The most commonly used vegetable oils in cosmetics nowadays are coconut oil, olive oil, soybean oil, avocado oil, and palm oil.

Coconut oil

 Coconut oil is a type of vegetable oil that is extracted from coconut harvested from the coconut palm tree.  

In recent times, coconut oil has become particularly popular oil in cosmetic products, both skin and hair-based.

Coconut oil has all the characteristics needed to make it suitable for cosmetic use. For instance, it has antioxidant properties that can help heal bruises and even skin infections.  

Perhaps the most defining feature of coconut oil is its moisturizing property. For years, people have been using coconut oil to nourish their hair and skin.

Today, the cosmetic industry realizes just how valuable coconut oil is in terms of moisturizing the skin and hair.

When used on the hair, coconut oil can cure dandruff, can treat an itchy scalp, and can bring back life into dull and tired tresses, making them shiny once again.

It is for these reasons that an increasing number of companies today are using coconut oil as a key ingredient in their hair masks and shampoos.

In fact, a number of companies such as Palmer’s are making specially formulated ‘natural’ shampoos that use coconut oil as their main ingredient.

In terms of skin products, coconut oil is being increasingly used in anti-aging products, makeup removing products and skin creams, especially body butter. This is because coconut oil can protect the skin by giving it a protective layer and preventing it from getting dehydrated.

Perhaps the best quality of coconut oil is that it is completely natural and can be used by all skin types. Coconut oil is also great for building up lather and is increasingly being used in soap-based products, such as facial cleansers as well.

The various products that come from coconut oil include, coconut extract, copra oil, coconut palm oil, coconut butter, etc.

Olive Oil

Similar to coconut oil, olive oil is nowadays being used as the main ingredient in a whole variety of lotions, shampoos, skin creams, and other cosmetic products.

Olive oil has in fact been used for cosmetic purposes since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Romans would use olive oil as a moisturizer for their body, each time after bathing.  

Even the Egyptians used olive oil as a skin moisturizer and cleanser.

Olive oil is extracted from the olive tree and its’ main chemical constituents include palmitic acid, vitamin E, strearic acid, polyphenols, linoleic acid, carotenoids, Oleic Acid (omega 9),  and squalene.

Olive oil is increasingly being used in cosmetics because of its many characteristics that make it ideal for use in these products.

The omega 9 present in olive oil for example are extremely beneficial for your hair, omega 9 encourages the hair strands to become softer and shinier and also induces faster hair growth.

Omega 9 also prevents and treats hair conditions such as dandruff. This is why olive oil is often used as the primary ingredient in many hair masks, shampoos and conditioners.

Omega 9 is also extremely beneficial to the skin of your face. It has anti-oxidant properties that reduce stiffness and pain in the body and also prevents wrinkles and other early signs of aging.  For this reason, olive oil is being used in many anti-aging creams as well.

Olive oil also contains omega 6. Omega 6 helps in healing wounds and with bruises which is why olive oil is used in creams and ointments. Omega 6 also helps to clear out and prevent acne. For this reason, olive oil is becoming a popular ingredient in facial cleansers, face lotions and even make up removers.

Additionally, the vitamin E present in olive oil acts as an anti-oxidant and can reduce early signs of aging such as wrinkles. Vitamin E can even protect your skin from air pollutants and contaminants.

The carotenoids present in olive oil can prevent skin from getting damaged and from the harmful rays of the sun. This is why olive oil is an active ingredient in sun protection lotions.

Olive oil can also boost the collagen of your skin, making it stronger, more resistant and more youthful than ever before.

Soybean Oil

Soybean oil is extracted from the Glycine Soja plant. Soybeans are a type of legume. They contain a great number of omega-6 acids and amino acids.

Soybean oil primarily comprises of linoleic acid, linolenic acid, saturated acid, and oleic acid (omega-9).

Soybean oil is increasingly being used as oil in cosmetic products because of its emollient properties. Soybean oil has been proven to be a great moisturizer and also has anti-oxidant properties.

It is being used by the cosmetic industry in products such as facial moisturizers, anti-aging creams, hair treatment products and lotions.  

Other names for soybean oil include soy oil, and glycine soja oil.

Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is derived from the avocado tree. There are many characteristics of the oil that make it an ideal ingredient to be used by the cosmetic industry.

For starters, avocado oil has a highly penetrative quality.  This penetrative quality make it ideal for use in massage creams and body creams because its nourishing effects can seep right down to your skin.

Avocado also has rich lathering qualities that make it suitable for use in all sorts of shower creams and soaps.  

Furthermore, avocado oil has high vitamin content, particularly vitamins A, B, D, and E. This gives it an advantage over other vegetable oils.

The oil does not have any strong odor either, so can easily be used in cosmetics.

Today, avocado oil is used in all sorts of cosmetic products, ranging from sun protection lotions, face creams and even conditioners.

In fact, any cosmetic product that requires oil in its formulation can be made using avocado oil as this is a more ‘natural’ substitute to mineral oil.

Palm Oil

 Palm oil and its many derivatives including Hydrogenated Palm Oil and Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil and hydrogenated palm oil are extracted from the palm tree called Elaeis guineensis.

In cosmetics and personal care products, these palm oil ingredients are used in the formulation of skin care products, makeup and suntan products.

Palm oil and its derivatives all have innumerable benefits for the skin. Palm oil has moisturizing, foaming and hydrating qualities, making it perfect for use in almost all cosmetic products. Because of these qualities, palm oil is often used by the beauty industry.

Currently, palm oil in some form or the other is being used in 70% of cosmetic products. So long as palm oil is sustainably sourced, it is perhaps the most effective of all vegetable oils.

Palm oil and its derivatives include palm oil, palm kernel oil, palm fruit oil, palm stearine, and sodium palm kernelate.

For centuries, cosmetics have been made using mineral oils, Only recently has there been a switch towards more ‘natural’ and more sustainable oils that are good for your health and that of our planet.

Coconut oil and olive oil continue to be two of the most popular vegetable oils that are being used in almost all of our cosmetic products today, be it makeup, skin care products, cleansers, soaps or lotions.

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