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Because You Can Take My Curel Out of My Cold, Dead Hands

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,
OK, this is driving me crazy, and I figure if anyone can find out this answer you can. I used to just use whatever makeup and moisturizers worked well for me. But, then, about two years ago, I started hearing about how bad mineral oil and petroleum-based products were for my skin. Now, I must say that this information all came from a company called Arbonne, and Arbonne products do not contain mineral oil, so I realize that they have an ulterior motive. BUT, some of the stuff I heard is pretty scary. I’ve heard that mineral oil is the second-most aging thing that our skin encounters (after the sun). I’ve heard that it makes our skin “addicted” to moisturizing. I’ve heard that it is actually drying, and prevents moisture from getting in. I’ve heard that it prevents our skin from breathing, and can actually be dangerous when used by people exercising (because the sweat can’t leave your body). I’ve even heard tales of it warping plastic. So, I started avoiding it, and I continued avoiding it even after I stopped using Arbonne.
BUT, I love some of the products that contain mineral oil. Philosophy Hope in a Tube? has it. The Curel that you recommended, and that I bought and used this morning and that I now love? has it. My old favorite Bobbi Brown tinted moisturizer? Yep, has it.
So, what do you think? Is it really bad for us? Can you help me feel better about slathering this stuff on my face and body?

How’s that for an answer?
So I’m not a doctor or a pharmacist or anything, but I have a very strong sense of ulterior motives. The anti-mineral-oil claims almost all originate from the marketing materials for “natural” lines of cosmetics and skincare products (Aveda, Arbonne, etc.).The thing is, mineral oil does come from a “natural” substance, albeit one that sounds kind of scary (crude oil). But…salt? Sodium and chloride? Chlorine? Anyone?
It’s all about the refining process and the final compound, which in this case, is a gentle cosmetics-grade substance that has been proven to be safe, non-comedogenic and effectively moisturizuring in a whole slew of published studies. Sure, you shouldn’t be slathering other derivatives of petroleum on your face, but…you aren’t.
Remember that old crazy email forward that used to go around blaming every disease known to man on aspartame? I’m always reminded of that whenever someone gets going with a long laundry list of evil side effects caused by whatever the toxin du jour is. Maybe there’s some merit to the claims, but maybe we should all just calm down and think about the source of those claims a little more. My doctor? A scientific journal? Anonymous email forward? A glossy marketing brochure?
While on a crazy crusade to find an effective treatment for Noah’s eczema, I stumbled across a few natural and holistic-type websites making the claims that mineral oil and petrolatum (Vaseline) were exactly what you SHOULDN’T be putting on ultra-dry skin. And I had a momentary freakout because OMG! MY POOR BAYBEE! I’ve been doing everything wrong and am the world’s worst mother! WAH.
And then I promptly ordered a &$*@ing $42 bottle of moisturizer from them. Which kept Noah’s skin moisturized for about…oh, 20 minutes. It had zero “staying power” and I had to re-apply it a million times a day. Then I bought the Curel. Heh.
I’ve also read all of Arbonne’s packaging and materials AND used a slew of free samples. They made my face break out and I didn’t see any of the amazing anti-aging results they promised from the body moisturizers and tonics or whatever. They actually didn’t moisturize that well at all. (And while we’re on the subject of wild marketing promises: Arbonne also claimed that my stretch marks would fade after two weeks of use, which come on.)
(You know I still applied that stuff faithfully every day
Obviously, my skin is not your skin or anybody else’s skin. I’ve heard certain Arbonne products praised to the sky, and I am ALL about people using whatever works for them. (I actually really love Arbonne’s line of baby products, although again, I found the moisturizer useless in the onslaught of Noah’s eczema.)
In my experience, what they claim is “suffocating” the skin is precisely why I LIKE products with mineral oil, because it actually DOES stay on the skin and forms a barrier against stuff like dry air and pollution. And I think poorly moisturized and unprotected skin is EXTREMELY prone to premature aging.
If ditching mineral oil from your skincare routine works for you, then awesome. But ditch it because of that fact and not because some marketing genius found a way to scare the crap out of you.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Grace D

    November 13, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    Kind Ladies, regarding Arbonne? And their near-hysterical fear of petroleum products? They’re a multi-level marketing company, like Amway. Satan Himself runs multi-level marketing companies.
    Count my kiddo and me as faithful Cetaphil users. Enough petroleum in those products to power a Hummer. Yet, the kiddo and I sport nicely dewy faces.

  • Amy

    November 13, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    I’ve been thinking about commenting about mineral oil/petrolatum for a while, awaiting the right opportunity. On my great-aunt Yoli’s 85th birthday we asked her how she looked to be in her 60s or 70s when she was in her 80s. Her response was, “Vaseline. I rub it in like I’m rubbing it out. I have for years.” I’m a convert. I use it at night (sparingly) once it starts to get dry outside. A little bit goes a long way.
    I’ve started to use eye ointment to help with my severe dry eye (I know, ointment in the eye, ew!). It’s been very helpful in the eye, and around it too. Some of the ointment seeps out of my eyes, and does a great job of moisturizing my under-eye area. The purpleness of my under-eye area has significantly reduced since using the ointment. I recommend it just for the skin too. It’s made of petrolatum, mineral oil, and lanolin. If you can put it in your eye, I’m guessing it’s good enough for your face. CVS and the like carry their own generics in the eye care aisle.
    And as for the Arbonne…I submitted a question about Arbonne to the Smackdown back when it was on Wednesdays. As I mentioned then, my friend’s mother-in-law and step sister-in-law told my friend that the cosmetics my friend wears are made from “opossum butt”: other manufacturers make their cosmetics from scooping up dead animals off the highways and bringing them to a rendering plant. Therefore using the “all natural” Arbonne products is better than putting “opossum butt” on your face.
    Thanks, but no, I’ll take my chances on “opossum butt”. After all, isn’t that natural too? We now call it Arbutt.

  • queenann

    November 13, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Body Shop makes excellent aloe products. Not too expensive and no mineral oil, or not much of it. Not that I believe any of that junk- just that it’s better for your skin. The aloe bath oil is gentle enough for a baby’s skin, I tell you! I use it instead of baby oil, which I formerly used instead of body moisturizers (my fine, sensitive pores don’t absorb lotion and will clog LIKE THAT but still get dry & flaky in minutes).

  • queenann

    November 13, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Also- I still (after many other trials) use straight baby oil to get waterproof mascara off my face at night. NOTHING else works as well (and proves that I am a natural blonde) without scrubbing, pulling & irritating my eyes.

  • SassyCassie

    November 13, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    Arbonne breaks out my skin, too. They actually told me, “Oh that’s what it’s supposed to do. It brings all of the imperfections to the surface and then takes them away.” Are you kidding me?!
    I really like the aurascience skincare line by Victoria Secret. I don’t know if it has mineral oil but it makes my skin look GREAT! An associate at our local store told me it was discontinued, though! I don’t know what I’ll do when I run out.

  • Martita

    November 14, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Has anyone else dealt with the oh-so-annoying Arbonne sales folks? Really, if your goal in life is to own a white Mercedes, you need a new goal. I feel I’m allowed to say this — I’m related to some of these people. You don’t have to guess what I’m getting for Christmas, do you?

  • Grace

    November 14, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Paula Begoin, the Cosmetics Cop, says that Mineral Oil is not “occlusive enough to block absorption into the skin, nor does it prevent skin from ‘breathing,’ as many anti-mineral oil companies claim.” You can read a longer discussion of mineral oil, petroleum jelly/petrolatum, etc. in her Beauty Bible. Though it’s difficult for me to resist marketing/advertising claims, I’ve found that the Cosmetic Cop’s advice is spot-on and based on actual published research.

  • Amy Corbett Storch

    Amy Corbett Storch

    November 15, 2006 at 8:05 am

    LOVE Paula Begoin. I can’t even tell you how often I’ve stumbled across her advice while poking around online, and she is indeed awesome.

  • Francie

    November 19, 2006 at 10:01 am

    You have turned me into a Curel Convert! Me of the chronic perma-eczema on my arms – I’ll be damned if it didn’t clear up in 3 days! Screw you, Cortizone Cream!

  • Lindsey

    November 20, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    My (incredibly good-looking) dermatologist told me that the very best thing for your skin is pure vaseline. His wife and child use it exclusively. Since it’s not very practical to get grease everywhere, he recommends the use of products like Curel and Aveeno that use it in a more absorbable form.

  • Liz

    November 16, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    Curel and most other “drug store” moisterizers have parabens in them, which mess with normal hormone balance.
    Everyone other freaking “natural” and “organic” moisterizing I’ve found that contains no parabens has some form of “stearyl” or “ceatyl” something or other, which is a skin/respiratory irritant. They can say it’s all natural because it’s techinally derived from plant cells. It’s still bad for you.
    Bottom line — I’ve been on a hunt and have yet to find a moisterizer that doesn’t contain some kind of “don’t want that on my skin” chemical. I’m not a salesperson for any beauty product company, just a frustrated person with dry skin.
    Also, about Arbonne, I just bitched them out when I finally bothered to actually read the ingredients list on their soaps and shampoos — it’s a looooooooooooong list of chemicals, with ammonium laureth sulfates AT THE FREAKING TOP!! If you don’t know what those are, they have been linked to cancer. Arbonne claims to be “pure, natural, and safe” but basically what I’m saying is, they have the same stuff in the more reasonably priced stuff at the drug store.
    This is what I’ve learned after my search. Good luck everyone!