Plant Oils Offer Perfection

Plant Oils Offer Perfection

September 2013

Organic brand Weleda frequently mention that they don’t use mineral oils in their natural cosmetics. But why is that, some of you ask?  Here they outline why their fundamental values are to avoid mineral oils in all of their products, and why plant oils are a better option for most skincare needs.

Weleda’s Head of Training & New Product Development, Evelyn Liddell, says: “We’ll start with a quick explanation about where mineral oils come from. Mineral oils are extracted from crude oil sources in the ground. Most often mineral oil is a liquid by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline and other petroleum-based products. The mineral oils, such as petroleum or paraffin, are refined for cosmetic use, but many people are concerned that they may still contain impurities from the petro-chemical industry, so that is one reason some avoid them.

From an environmental perspective, mineral oils are also not very eco-friendly ingredients to use. As a by-product of the petrochemical industry, mineral oils are non-renewable resources that contribute to our dependence on fossil fuels. This is another good reason to opt for plant oils.

Mineral oils are ‘dead’ inert substances - they have little smell, little colour, and contain no active compounds that contribute to the formulation. Plant oils on the other hand are ‘living’ active ingredients and therefore bring benefits to the formulation such as valuable nutrients, and have an active effect on the skin.

Some people are concerned that mineral oils can clog the pores, as they are not absorbed into the skin, but sit on the surface as a barrier. Plant oils are more akin to the oily sebum in our skin, and absorb well into the skin, allowing the skin to ‘breathe’ and function fully.

But don’t just take our word for it. Here is advice from Sharon Trotter RM BSc, Midwife, founder of TIPS® and an expert on baby skincare:

“Mineral oils, paraffin wax and other petrochemicals (which are commonly found in baby toiletries as well as maternity products) are usually obtained from crude petroleum by heating, in a process called functional distillation. Gasoline and kerosene are removed from crude petroleum using sulphuric acid, applying absorbents, and washing with solvents and alkalis. These processes can contaminate the resulting by-products, although you won’t find them mentioned on the INCI list of ingredients printed on bodycare packaging! Obviously this has the potential to affect the purity of the final products and, if listed, would be banned under organic standards.

Mineral oils have the following disadvantages:

  • they create a film or barrier on the skin which means skin cannot breath properly or eliminate toxins, which in turn could lead to allergies or skin dryness
  • they do not absorb into the skin, leaving a layer of oil on the skin which is slippery
  • they provide no ‘nutritional’ value to nourish the skin

Even some vegetable oils are not ideal for delicate baby skin. For example olive oil is high in oleic acid which ironically can have the same effect on the skin as detergents - stripping away the delicate barrier that is there to protect the baby’s skin from damage. This can reduce the natural water content of the skin which becomes more prone to eczema. Dry skin is more absorbent, allowing potentially damaging chemicals to penetrate the epidermis more easily.

Choosing oil (organic is preferable) that is lower in oleic oil (like sunflower oil) is safer. Oils that are higher in linoleic acid are better (such as sunflower, sesame seed, evening primrose, pomegranate).

My advice for baby skincare would be to avoid using any oil (olive or otherwise) or indeed any skincare product on the skin of a healthy newborn baby (this may differ for premature or compromised infants) for at least the first month of life until the skin’s natural barrier or ‘acid mantle’ has had a chance to develop its own protective mechanisms. 

The only exception to this is a thin layer of barrier cream on the nappy area for obvious reasons. After this period, a light plant oil can work well for baby massage, general moisturisation and protection, and can even be used to gently clean the skin in the nappy area, especially if skin is sore and soap or wipes might sting.

Read the labels of any skincare products before you buy them, and avoid products containing sulphates (SLS / SLES), parabens, phthalates, artificial colours and perfumes. Before you start using a new baby product, do a patch test on a small area of skin - even if it claims to be natural or organic.”’

Weleda use organic cold-pressed plant oils in their mother and baby range. Check out the multi-award winning Stretch Mark Massage Oil and the new fragrance-free Calendula Baby Oil here or watch this endearing video on baby skincare and baby massage to pick up a few tips if you’re a first time mum.