Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/12/2023
Mineral oil for hair health: what does it do, and do you want it to do that?
There are too many hair care products on the market these days to keep track of, from plant extracts to seed oils (and even oils from fish). It feels like half of the grocery store is trying to work its way into your scalp with some hair health benefit claims. And wouldn’t you know it — even the gas station is trying to get in on the hair product action.
Mineral oil — a petroleum product — has a hot and cold relationship with your body as a health product. Some claims suggest that mineral oil can brighten skin and thicken and moisten thin, dry hair, while others say it can cause cancer and other negative effects. Is mineral oil bad? How are you supposed to know?
It’s times like these when you need a trusted resource to explain who’s right and who’s wrong. And we’re happy to step up.
We’re going to walk you through the dangers and benefits of mineral oil for your hair, but before we do that, you’ll want to join us as we drill through some of the important basic facts about mineral oil that will help us later.
Let’s start at bedrock.
Mineral oil is a collection of carbon compounds that result from putting petroleum through several refining processes.
But much like crude oil and gasoline aren’t the same thing, the mineral oil in the medicine cabinet at your mom’s place has very little in common with a petroleum product like gasoline (although they’re both technically flammable).
Mineral oil has special applications because of its unique properties. You’ll most often see it used in food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, though it can also be used as lubricant in industrial or household applications.
At the chemical level, mineral oil is a refined mixture of saturated hydrocarbons, the organic component of natural oils and petroleum products.
That’s a lot of scientific jargon, and you’re probably wondering how all of this translates to the look, feel and health of your hair. Here’s what we know.
Mineral oil is fairly well known for its skin benefits in the cosmetic world. It’s a well-known moisturizing agent and can increase skin softness in certain applications.
The main “benefit” of using mineral oil on hair is that it actually coats the hair shaft, which helps create a protective barrier and protect your hair from damage. Another name for this ability to reduce friction — which is one cause of hair damage — is reducing the “combing force.”
Essentially, applying mineral oil to your hair reduces the amount of strain that combing or brushing places on your hair follicles. This can reduce the amount of breakage, damage and general loss from maintenance acts like brushing, which can be more damaging for people with frizzy hair and similar hair types.
Mineral oil is also thought to enhance texture and shine because it leaves a thin film on the surface of the hair — which can then be washed off with your next shampoo session.
Another study found that among oils, mineral oil was one of the best preventers of split ends, alongside Brazilian nut oil.
Oh, and in the event that you have lice, a 2016 study found that a lice shampoo with mineral oil offers benefits as an insecticide alternative.
But as benefits go, mineral oil isn’t exactly the top of its class. For instance, one study looked at the effects of mineral oil in comparison with other oils for hair and found that it didn’t protect against protein loss.
Some oils can do this, which adds a bit of protective value. But mineral oil is incapable of penetrating the follicle, so it’s not as beneficial as oils that can work more deeply.
Mineral oil isn’t considered a profoundly dangerous cosmetic product, but there are some contexts in which its use should be limited.
Unrefined types of mineral oil have been linked to certain kinds of cancer, including scrotal cancer, but these unrefined versions, used in automotive and other industrial contexts, aren’t the same as the cosmetic versions.
The biggest potential side effects associated with mineral oil use are that it can increase your risk of developing acne and clogged pores, lead to scalp irritation on the sensitive skin there, and cause some eye irritation if you’re messy in your application.
Some people are also allergic to mineral oils, so if you’re considering using them for the first time, we’d highly suggest testing them on a small area of your skin before dumping a bottle over your head.
Other than that, there aren’t many reasons not to use mineral oil occasionally. In our opinion, however, there also aren’t many reasons to use mineral oil in your hair in the first place.
You’re better off with alternative oils and natural ingredients. In fact, you’re better off with proven and effective alternatives like medication and vitamins — let’s discuss those.
Mineral oil’s pro-con ratio might be perfectly acceptable to you, but if you’re seeing signs of hair loss or hair damage and want to treat it with effective, scientifically proven methods, consider stepping outside of oils and using medication and vitamins instead.
Minoxidil is at the top of our list, and the FDA puts it pretty high on their list of effective treatment as well. This generic version of Rogaine works as a vasodilator — essentially, it increases blood flow to your hair strands, which means that the cells working to create more hair get the oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive.
One study that looked at minoxidil use over a period of 38 weeks suggested that minoxidil can increase a person’s hair count by up to 17 percent in some cases.
As for vitamins and mineral supplements, well, they’re most effective when they’re addressing a known deficiency. If you are deficient in a vitamin that’s essential for hair health, multivitamins and vitamin-containing shampoos can restore balance and get your hair back where you want it.
Side note: our multivitamin biotin gummies provide a lot of the essentials — check them out.
Your daily exercise and dietary habits all have general effects on your health, and those effects can trickle down to each and every follicle on your head. So if you want preventative hair care to be at the top of your priority list, there’s a very good argument for taking care of the rest of your body too.
The list of potentially valuable changes and choices you can make to improve your hair health is long, including your hair care routine. Making the right choices for your needs is comparably hard. That’s why you shouldn’t be making these decisions alone — you should be making them with the help of a healthcare professional.
You may decide that the benefits that mineral oil can provide outweigh the potential risks it poses — that’s a choice for you to make. What’s not really a choice, however, is seeking help if you see signs of hair loss.
Whether mineral oil is a potential culprit of hair loss or your first over-the-counter solution to it, you’re not doing yourself any favors by making assumptions.
A healthcare professional can help you wade through the facts and determine the real cause of hair loss, whether it’s an immune condition or just a genetic predisposition to female pattern hair loss.
If you’re ready to talk to someone now, we can help. Our hair health resources can get you the answers you need, supply you with a diagnosis and even treatment for hair loss. And if the right treatment ends up being mineral oil, we can suggest some hair health products to help boost your new, healthy hair growth.
But none of that can happen without an expert. Whether it’s our healthcare professionals or someone else, reach out today. Your hair will thank you.