Should You Be Concerned About Isoparaffin In Your Cosmetics?

Written by Ramona Sinha

We all are wary of petrolatum or petroleum ingredients in our skin care products. Isoparaffin is one such “scary ingredient” that we mostly want to avoid. This petroleum-derived hydrocarbon is used as a solvent in cosmetic and skin care products – aerosols, hair sprays, creams, mascaras, lotions, lip balms, deodorants, foundations – you name it. Isoparaffin enhances the texture of these products, which work to moisturize and protect your skin.

It is practically impossible to avoid isoparaffin completely because it is in every cosmetic formulation. However, should you be really scared of its presence? Is it really harmful or toxic? Keep reading for the answers.

What Is Isoparaffin?

Isoparaffin is a type of petroleum-based mineral oil or alkane found in creams, lotions, and moisturizers. There are 24 different isoparaffins used in cosmetic and skin care formulations to add texture and make the product viscous. It is the ingredient that gives your daily creams that thick and creamy feel without greasiness.

The most common isoparaffins found in cosmetic formulations include (1):

IsoparaffinsFunctions In Cosmetics
C 7-8, C 8-9, C 9-11, C 9-12, C 9-13, C 9-14, C 10-11, C 10-12, C 11-14 isoparaffinsSolvents, Viscosity decreasing agents
  • C 9-16, C 12-20, C 20-40 Isoparaffins
  • Isoeicosane
  • Isohexadecane
Skin conditioning agent, emollient, solvents
  • C 10-13, C 11-13,  C 12-14, C 13-14, C 13-16 Isoparaffins
  • Isooctane
C 11-12, C 15-35 IsoparaffinsSkin conditioning agent, miscellaneous solvents
C 18-70Skin conditioning agent, occlusive
  • 1,1-Dineopentylethylene
  • Heptane, 2,2,6,6- Tetramethyl4-Methylene-
  • 2,2,4,6,6-Pentamethylheptane;
  • 2,2,6,6-Tetramethyl-4 Methyleneheptane;
Fragrance ingredients, solvents

This additive is made of carbon and hydrogen atoms, does not cause any reaction, and mixes well with other ingredients to enhance your skin. This brings us to the most concerning question – is isoparaffin safe for the skin? Let’s find out.

Is Isoparaffin A Safe Ingredient For Your Skin?

The answer is – yes!

According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel, isoparaffins are safe to use in cosmetic formulations. The concentration of isoparaffins used in the products ranges from 0.0001% (C13-14 Isoparaffin) to 90% (Isodedocane). The expert panel did not find any evidence of carcinogenic potential from exposure to isoparaffins in cosmetics (1).

What if you inhale it when you use hairsprays and deodorants? Well, the average particle diameter in aerosol sprays has a mean of  ~38 µm, and 99% of the isoparaffin particle diameter range between 10–110 µm. Hence, anything less than 10 µm is respirable. This means isoparaffins in aerosols are non-respirable (1).

In animal studies, isoparaffins caused skin sensitization and ocular irritation. However, in human studies, these chemicals, whether used alone or in formulations, were found tolerable and not classified as irritants, sensitizers, phototoxic, or photosensitizers.

Only isohexadecane (undiluted) induced mild skin irritation in patients. However, it did not induce irritation when used in 10% concentration (in petrolatum).

Other than this,

  • The FDA permits using a synthetic form of isoparaffin hydrocarbons to coat fruits and vegetables (3).
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most harmful), the Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates C13-14 isoparaffin as 1 in terms of safety (4).

However, there are some safety concerns regarding the possible contamination of isoparaffins.

Side Effects And Risks Associated With Isoparaffin

Since isoparaffin is derived from petroleum, there are chances of 1,4-dioxane contamination, which may cause skin irritation and allergies, and the FDA considers it as a potential human carcinogen. However, an evaluation of products to trace the presence of 1,4-dioxane  by the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulations (ICCR) reported that the chemical levels are within the acceptable margin. Therefore, the expert panel concluded that trace levels of 1,4-dioxane (less than 10 ppm) in cosmetic products are safe (5), (6).

You must now be relieved that you do not have to discard all your products containing isoparaffin! Let’s try to understand how this ingredient works in synergy with the other ingredients in your product to benefit you.

Benefits Of Isoparaffin For Skin

Isoparaffin works as an emollient and has semi-occlusive properties. It:

  • Helps lock in skin moisture (best for dry skin).
  • Repairs the skin and strengthens the skin’s barrier.
  • Prevents the extremal irritants from penetrating the skin.
  • Ensures smooth product application.
  • Feels weightless and does not choke the skin pores.
  • Gives the desired matte finish (when used in creams and lipsticks).

How To Use Isoparaffin For Skin

Isoparaffin is included in skin and hair care products, such as creams, lotions, and moisturizers, and you do not get it separately.

As a moisturizer, this ingredient is suitable for dry and flaky skin. Check the ingredients of the products before buying them. Though isoparaffin on its own is non-comedogenic, since it may also function as an occlusive, it is better to avoid it if you have oily or acne-prone skin.

The Verdict

Isoparaffin is an emollient used in safe concentrations in many skin and hair care products to prevent moisture loss and add texture to them. If you have dry skin, you can benefit from its moisture-locking properties. However, if you have oily and acne-prone skin, you may want to avoid it as much as possible (if not completely). If you are using products containing isoparaffin without any issues, you need not discontinue them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use isoparaffin-based products on oily skin?

You can use it if your skin is oily and resilient. Though isoparaffins are safe, it is better to minimize their usage if your skin is acne-prone.

What products contain C13-14 isoparaffin?

C13-14 isoparaffin is found in creams, moisturizers, conditioners, lip balms, makeup removers, deodorants, antiperspirants, etc.

Are isoparaffin-based products for daily use?

Yes, isoparaffin-based products can be used daily on the skin, especially if you have a rough and dry skin type.


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Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.