For most people, baby oil is just another one of those ‘must-haves’ for taking care of a newborn because it has been used for so long. Since there has been some controversy over baby oil recently, I thought it would be a good idea to explore what baby oil is made of and find out if it is safe to use with my children.
Baby oil is traditionally made of mineral oil with added fragrances. While mineral oil is generally considered safe, it could lead to skin problems for some and the added fragrance could include unlabeled harsh chemicals. In most cases, there are better alternatives to baby oil available for moisturizing your baby’s skin.
I should point out that just because most baby oil is made from mineral oil it doesn’t mean that all brands will use it. We’ll talk a lot about mineral oil below, but I’ll also point out some natural alternatives that won’t include mineral oil at all. Let’s dive into the common ingredients, uses, and safety for traditional baby oil!
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Baby oil ingredients
Baby oil has been around in various forms for almost a hundred years. In the United States, Johnson’s baby oil is still the most popular brand on the market today and most people will recognize the iconic clear bottle with pink writing.
Traditional baby oil, like Johnson’s, is really only made with two ingredients: mineral oil and fragrance.
This list is a little misleading for two reasons, however.
Firstly, fragrance is often listed as a single ingredient on the packaging, but there are often dozens of chemicals hidden beneath that one word. This means that you’ll never know for sure what should be listed on the label unless the company discloses their formula. How often does that happen? Almost never.
Basically, there is no way to know for sure which chemicals are hiding underneath the second ingredient so the list isn’t as simple as it looks.
Secondly, baby oil is a generic term that could be used for a variety of products. Just because something is called ‘baby oil’ doesn’t mean that it uses the traditional ingredients at all. It could be a combination of other oils, for instance, and could include only natural essential oils for use as a fragrance.
Truly, you will need to pay attention to the label before purchasing any kind of baby oil.
What is baby oil used for?
The most common use for baby oil, by far, is as a moisturizer for your baby’s skin.
Since baby skin can be so sensitive (it’s brand new after all!) it’s common for them to need a little help to keep everything smooth and healthy. Typically, you’ll bathe your little bundle of joy, dry them off, and then apply a little bit of the baby oil all over the skin. Then, you can get the diaper and pajamas on and they are ready to snuggle!
Alternative uses for baby oil
Because baby oil is essentially just mineral oil, there are actually a ton of other things you can do with it in the bathroom and around the house. Mustela has a great resource for this here, but I’ll list a few of the most useful:
- Shaving – works great on legs!
- Cracked heels or hands
- Removing sticker residue
- Shining metal fixtures
- Removing mildew from shower curtains
- Making cloud dough!
- Treating cradle cap
- Removing temporary tattoos
As you can see, it might be worth having some baby oil around the house even if you don’t plan on using it as a moisturizer!
Is baby oil safe for babies?
I’ve already mentioned that baby oil could actually involve quite a few different ingredients, so for the purposes of this article we are really asking the question ‘Is mineral oil safe for babies?’
The short answer to this question is yes, mineral oil is generally considered very safe when used as directed as a moisturizer. Many doctors have weighed in on this and insist that there is no medical reason to avoid mineral oils. Aerosolized versions have been linked to some issues, however, so it might be best to avoid those.
With that being said, mineral oil is a petrochemical and it is essentially a byproduct of the process that turns crude oil into gasoline. If you stop and think about it, it seems crazy to want to slather a gasoline byproduct all over your baby. Before you freak out too badly, however, remember that Vasoline and Aquaphor are also petrochemicals as well and considered quite safe. The American Academy of Dermatology even recommends using Vasoline during wound care in many cases to keep wounds moist and minimize scarring.
In nearly all situations, mineral oil will not irritate your baby’s skin and will help hydrate the skin at the same time.
Mineral oil can cause other problems
Just because it’s safe, however, doesn’t mean that mineral oil is the best thing in the world to put on your skin.
Mineral oil works as an occlusive emollient which means that it sits on top of the skin and creates a barrier on the surface. This barrier helps keep moisture locked in and mineral oil on its own won’t clog your baby’s pores. Unfortunately, this barrier also keeps dirt and other things that CAN clog pores trapped and liable to cause problems down the road.
Essentially, mineral oil will get the job done moisturizing your baby’s skin, but it is not the best thing for the job!
Fragrances often include harsh chemicals
Like I mentioned before, there are likely a bunch of harsh chemicals hidden within the baby oil and there is no way to find out for sure which ones they are.
In fact, EWG published a study a while back showing that as many as 3,163 different chemicals are available as ingredients in a fragrance recipe. 25 of those chemicals were highly dangerous for humans and about 17 percent of the total were at least moderately dangerous.
In general, I always avoid synthetic fragrances whenever possible and instead opt for fragrance-free options or products that use natural ingredients, such as essential oils, for their fragrances.
Alternatives to baby oil
At this point, we know that while baby oil is generally safe for use, there are far better alternatives available that will avoid the problems mineral oil creates on the skin and avoids synthetic fragrances at the same time.
The best options will include natural seed oils, extracts, and essential oils to form a potent moisturizer that also smells great.
Here are two products that I trust and recommend to friends and family:
This particular product has a short ingredients list, avoids nut oils (for those that are allergic), and avoids petroleum, mineral oil, parabens, and artificial fragrances.
Here’s the full list of ingredients:
- Grape (Vitis Vinifera) seed oil
- Organic Jojoba (Simmondsia Chinensis) seed oil
- Organic Calendula (Calendula Officinalis) flower extract
Many reviewers said that they were able to get their baby’s relief from painful red and itchy skin after just one application of this baby oil. They also preferred it to other brands such as The Honest Company, Badger, and Baby Botanicals.
This particular product is 100% organic and is made with lavender oil to help calm your baby before bedtime and help her sleep!
Here’s the list of ingredients:
- Avocado oil (Persea Gratissima)
- Marjoram Essential Oil (Marjorana Hortensis L)
- Cedarwood Essential Oil (Cedrus Atlantica)
- Sweet Orange (Citrus Sinesis)
- Lavender Essential Oil (Lavendula Angustifolium L)
Again, all of these ingredients are fully organic.
You can add this oil directly to the bath or apply it afterward before bed. According to reviewers, it even works great on mommy’s tummy to help avoid stretch marks before the baby arrives!