What is Bio-Oil?

The cosmetics and personal care industry is a huge behemoth which takes in and spends billions and billions every year. A lot of its activity is focused on sales and marketing with the ultimate objective of getting money out of your pocket and into theirs. Sometimes this involves providing you with a good product that meets a genuine need or gives you a real benefit – but profit is the motive.

But sometimes a product becomes successful for no other reason than that people like it, tell their friends about it and create a word of mouth reputation. One example of this is the product Bio-Oil made by a relatively small Swiss company. The company makes a range of claims for their product, but the one that seems to have struck a chord is that it works for stretch marks.

Bio-Oil and Stretch Marks

Now stretch marks are a tough thing to treat. I have never given birth myself but I was present at the birth of my children and I couldn’t help notice that it is quite a traumatic process. Its not surprising that there is some damage to the skin which can be quite severe. Only the very optimistic person would expect stretch marks to be easy to treat. But the body itself does have some pretty good regnerative processes, so one strategy which might pay off is to try and create the optimum conditions for the skin to heal itself. This would probably be simply keeping the skin as well moisturised as possible, maybe encouraging blood flow to the area and avoiding further stress. Maybe massaging to encourage a bit of extra enzyme activity.

Bio-Oil Ingredients

Bio-Oil seems to be nothing more than a blend of oils. Lets have a look at the ingredient list.

Paraffinum Liquidum – or mineral oil as we are more familiar with it in the UK. This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable base for this kind of product. It is safe and very effective. I know some people have issues with mineral oil (I must do a blog about that) but I see nothing wrong with it. In the context of a stretch mark product, it is going to give a very good barrier action.

Triisononanoin – I had never heard of this, but a quick Google reveals that it is a branched member of the ester chemical family. These are often used to give a silky feel to formulations and also help the oil spread over the skin. This again sounds like quite an appropriate material to use.

Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate and Isopropyl Myristate are also branched esters with similar properties to the above, but these ones are better known and I have used both of them.

Retinyl Palmitate is a form of vitamin A which might well help with the body’s regenerative processes.

Tocopheryl Acetate is a form of vitamin E which is a useful anti-oxidant.

Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil is the latin name for chamomile oil, an oil with some reasonably well documented health benefits.

Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil is well known to everyone and its health benefits are very well documented.

Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil – rosemary is supposed to have some positive health benefits, though I haven’t checked them out personally.

Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract is extracted from the flowers of marigolds, and these have been shown to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect.

Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil – I don’t think there is anything particularly beneficial about sunflower oil but there doesn’t seem to be much of it given how low down the ingredient list and it is probably simply there as the carrier for one of the other ingredients, and likewise for the Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil.

BHT – is a chemical antioxidant. There have been concerns raised about whether this material is totally safe but I don’t think the case against it is very strong at the moment and in the case of a product like this it is likely to be used at a negligibly low level in any case.

Bisabolol – is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and is thought to be the active agent in Calendula. I imagine what is going on here is that they are adding some synthetic bisabolol to boost the calendula – but they might have simply chosen to list it as it would be present in the Calendula anyway. Either way, it is a safe mild anti-inflammatory agent.

CI 26100 is a synthetic colour – a red coloured one. This must be present at a very low level and probably makes the product look richer, but won’t have any other effect.

Parfum is what it sounds like – a perfume and the rest of the list of ingredients is simply components of the fragrance that legally need to be listed. The fact that it contains so many suggests to me that it is a reasonably expensive fragrance containing lots of natural ingredients.

The results of a clinincal trial are reported on the website. The term clinical trial is stretching it a bit as there were only 12 people involved, and there is no indication that a placebo was used. Only 50% of users saw an improvement after 4 weeks. There isn’t any indication of how much of an improvement they had. I don’t think this trial on its own is particularly strong evidence, but when you put it into the context that a lot of people who have used the product speak highly of it I am prepared to believe it is doing something.

At the end of the day, Bio-Oil offers three benefits. Far and away the most important is aiding moisturisation by putting a thin layer of oil on your skin. It also has some actives that have anti-oxidant effects and others that are anti-inflammatory.

Bio-Oil – Does it Work?

So what is my overall conclusion? Bio-oil has plenty of ingredients that might be expected to help clear up stretch marks, and the general approach of regularly applying an oil to hold in the skin’s moisture should be beneficial. I am pretty sure it works mainly by helping the body’s own repair mechanisms to function. I suspect that all it does is speed up what is going to happen anyway. I would also be surprised if its effects were dramatic. I think you probably need to use it for a prolonged period of time before you really get anything much out of it.

£4.99 for 60ml isn’t cheap but it should go a long way so I think it is reasonable purchase. But please don’t expect too much from it. It will take a while before you see any benefit. And there is also an alternative you might want to consider. My friends over at Beauty Swap Shop have found a product called Rescue Oil. This is the same basic idea, but it doesn’t have any of the natural active ingredients. The ingredient listing is about half the length. I have a feeling that most of the benefit of these products comes from moisturisation. Both should work about the same for this. The Rescue Oil has vitamin E as an anti-oxidant but doesn’t offer any anti-inflammatory action. I think you might have a hard job to tell the efficacy of the two products apart. But if you have skin that is prone to becoming inflammed, the Bio-Oil might be the better bet.

You can read some personal experiences on the Makeup Alley, where Bio-Oil is quite popular.

And see the next post for my reaction to the ASA upholding complaints about Bio-Oil’s advertising.

[hana-code-insert name=’Bio Oil’ /]

18 thoughts on “Bio-Oil”

  1. Sadly, there just isn’t the money to do a 5000 person double blind clinical trial for every product available. Thanks for the breakdown!

  2. Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum (yes, this is where gasoline comes from) and has molecules too large for the skin to absorb thus effectively keeping all moisture OUT. (have you ever noticed why when using Carmex or Chap Stick you have to reapply all the time? It’s a money maker people!) Also, as the skin is the largest organ of the body it is constantly absorbing whatever you put on it. Once mineral oil is absorbed it is processed by your liver which then sends it through the digestive tract where it sponges up all of the fat soluble vitamins that it can find. So essentially using mineral oil is malnourishing you. Google around for more info if you desire. But beware of the people who say that mineral oil is ‘totally fine” for use. Just do a google search and educate yourself and you’ll find plenty of information to the contrary.

    1. Thanks for your contribution Claire, but I am afraid there are a few things I can’t agree with there. The skin absorbs very little of what is applied to it. Mineral oil will hardly penetrate the skin at all. Any mineral oil that got into the blood stream – which would have to be a really small amount -would indeed end up in the liver, but the liver would simply convert it into a form that the body can deal with. The enzyme that does this is a well known one called cytochrome P450 and it converts the hydrocarbons in the mineral oil to alcohols which are then metabolised further. There is no chance at all that it would be secreted into the digestive tract.

  3. i think you are very right the disadvantage of bio oil is much. because the mineral content is much. and mineral are very harmful to the skin.

  4. A very interesting post. A recent spate of TV advertising for Bio-Oil has made me look again at its ingredients and the claims made for it.

    I lookied into Bio-Oil when it first appeared on the shelves some years ago. At that time I was very active with the National Eczema Society (served on the Board) and was always interested to find out about new products for topical application, and what might be claimed for them.

    At that time I could find no reputable published peer-reviewed clinical evidence whatver that it actually did anything.

    It was apparent to me that its sudden prominence on the shelves of pharmacy chains and community pharmacists represented a triumph of marketing, not of clinical pharmacology.

    Nothing has occurred to chnage this opinion; in fact, it is strengthened.

    A siginifcant change DOES appear to have taken place however.

    In previous online product information, the “special” ingredient that was featured, was said to be the “PurCellin Oil”. This was explained to be a nature-identical synthetic replica of the oil found in the preeening gland of ducks.

    It is interesting that the current “blurb” on the website says nothing whatver about ducks, but merely says, of this PurCellin Oil: “The Bio?Oil formulation is a combination of plant extracts and vitamins suspended in an oil base. It contains the breakthrough ingredient PurCellin Oil™, which changes the formulation’s overall consistency, making it light and non-greasy, ensuring that the goodness contained in the vitamins and plant extracts is easily absorbed.”

    Why this change? I suggest that it’s because people don’t like the idea of duck gland oil!

    It would seem clear also from the infomration above, that no specific claim is made regarding any possible clinical effect on skin of this duck-identical PurCellin oil. It is said only to inmprove the consistency of Bio-Oil.

    Hats must be doffed, I think, to the marketing people at Bio-Oil, for their skill.

    I am concerend to note that the current spate of advertising on TV does seem to be claiming, or at least suggesting, benefits in relation to the appearance of scars. I will see if I can record one of these adverts for proper analysis.

  5. I’ve just listened to the ad. It said “Bio-Oil helps improve the appearance of scars and stretch marks”. The lady’s friend “raves about it”, it seems.

    I guess this is probably an amended wording. It is not claimed that Bio-Oil is any BETTER at helping improve the appearance of scars and stretch marks, than mineral oil, or any light vegetable oil, or any lipid at all, for that matter.

    As, indeed, it probably isn’t.

    1. Thanks for this Dave. I think that Bio-Oil’s makers had some luck with this product. It got a lot of positive coverage on online discussions, spontaneously as far as I can tell, just at the time when they were becoming popular. Not many people take a lot of notice of trials unfortunately.

  6. Which ingredient in the Bio-Oil list is actually the PurCellin oil? It’s a mystery! Is it the Triisononanoin?

    Why does the packaging not mention PurCellin Oil? It seems from their website that “PurCellin” is nothing more than a trademark.

    Curiously, I see that a petroleum-derived lipid called “Duck Oil” is commonly available as a lubricant. You can get it in gallon cans, and it seems to be a main ingredient of WD40.

  7. OK, so I have had a reply from Bio-Oil in response to my enquiry about the “Breakthrough ingredient PurCellin Oil”.

    In part, the reply says:

    “While you will not see PurCellin Oil(tm) listed under the ingredients of Bio-Oil, its two main components are listed. These include Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate and Isopropyl Myristate”.

    I don’t quite know how you can say, of the two main ingredients, “these include”. Surely it must be “these are”?

    In any case, check out

    Perhaps the breakthrough ingredient PurCellin Oil is really Crodamol?

  8. I wrote back to Bio-Oil, to the person who responded to my first enquiry. I asked her how “the breakthrough ingredient Pur-Cellin Oil” differed, if at all, from Crodamol.

    I never got a reply.

    How would Bio-Oil, if called upon to do so, justify the use of the word “breakthrough” in thier advertising, I wonder.

  9. This was a helpful post — I had a feeling the stuff in Bio-Oil might not be all that special. Sounds like if one mixed a bit of vitamin A, E and some calendula into a vaseline or cold cream it would be similar.

  10. Medical Student

    Hi David, I think that you are spending to much time on this fourm. I love your work! but maybe everyone would be better off rubbing..,

  11. Hi, David Boyce!

    Thank you for your work!
    -Maybe the company has done a good job in advertising, but I’m not impressed by their answers!

  12. Good work David Bryce.
    Colin I am not sure if you are recommending this product.
    This seems like Snake oil.
    I just visited their website and there is nothing about Purcellin oil.

    Its just a mixture of 4 oils which I would advise ppl to buy organic natural and blend them.
    The chemicals are dangerous and seem to only be there cause its a cosmetic and to save them some money.
    Isopropyl Myristate actually causes cracks in the skin to promote absorbtion and/or bacterial growth.
    Now mind you this is “pseudo-science” at work. Since it cracks the skin they have somehow convinced the authorities it will increase absorbtion.
    But it can cause acne and other skin condition(obviously).

    Most of this stuff is dangerous. They sure are running a million dollar marketing campaign so they can sell you snake oil for a huge price.

    They make no claims to erase any of the marks be it scars or stretch marks. They say it will only improve the appearance.

    Trust me you just take some coconut oil and rub it every day for 10 minutes(Not mind you rubbing 10 minutes is a very long time and your hands might ache)
    But do it and you will get rid of any scar. I have got rid of 10 year old scars from a injury when I was a kid.

    Its really time consuming I cleared all the scars(cause I used to play a lot sports where I would be rolling in the ground without protection and get scrapped up) except for one on the hand that to this date is so light that other people can hardly notice it.
    Don’t ask my why I stopped maybe the same reason I stopped exercising and over eating and became fat.
    The same reason I find it so hard to lose weight.
    I know everything and exactly how to lose weight(that works for me at least) as I have lost more than 100kilos in the last 5 years but I keep putting it back on(I can lose 10 kilos at once and then I stop the max I have lost is 15 kilos in a month and NO NO NO I don’t put it on immediately I maintain it for 3 to six months and then slowly I start over eating and its mainly binging I know I am doing it its like an eating disorder then I put it back on. Just thought I would put it out there cause I am not doing any crash diets, Just eating healthy vegan diet oil free and chewing my food and doing yoga works everytime if I could only do it for more than a month).
    Sorry back to the topic. So this is the only reason why I have not got down to removing my scars.
    I have 2 huge marks one from sitting cross legged on a chair and the other from leaning on the side wall.
    I know I can just remove them by applying oil for 10 minutes a day rubbing it vigourously adding oil to keep it smooth but I don’t.

    Now I got stretch marks. I search high and low for creams and it seems there is nothing.
    So I thought let me try what I did for my scars(IF I manage to get started). But I thought maybe if I had some herbal oil to help it would maybe double the effect.
    That is why I looked into Bio Oil and that got me here.

    Well I think I have searched enough and I guess this is what I am going to do.
    I am going to get a derma seta(that TV infomercial product that is a skin polisher) it has a brush.
    From my research I hear that dry brushing also improves skin.
    So I will do dry brushing and then I will take normal pad and then massage my skin with oil.

    I think it will be easier than rubbing with my hand. and I am pretty sure my scars will go off.
    But not so sure about stretch marks. But its worth a try I am sure it will improve appearance. Why pay Bio Oil when I can do it for free.

    Since I can type almost as fast as I can think I thought let me share it with you guys
    You can try this it sure works for scars they will be gone completely.
    Those black patches ones But sure about surgical stiches scars but it should smoothen them out.
    I hope they work for stretch marks.
    If it works I will come back here after 6 months and post it

  13. Hello Managalore – I don’t think my review is particularly recommending Bio-Oil as such. I think that regular application of an oil of this kind is likely to do some good, albeit a fairly modest amount. At the time I wrote it Bio-Oil was still a very small product and was not spending much money on promotion. It was very much a word of mouth success and as such I was prepared to be a bit more lenient on it than I might have been were I reviewing it today.

    And yes, well done to David Boyce.

    I’ll be interested to see how your experiment turns out. Don’t forget to come back and share the results.

  14. I know this post is a few years old but I’ve literally ( and thankfully) only just come across Colin’s pages and couldn’t help putting in my contribution!
    A few years ago as a beauty therapy lecturer ( and failed cosmetic scientist as I only completed the theory and not the practical) I had a mature, manicure student who worked in a hospital lab and had terrible, angry red skin on the length of her forearm caused through mopping up chemicals without any protection. This had remained on the skin for at least 18 months and despite trying different types of creams/lotions the skin would not return to normal. That is until another student recommended bio oil.
    You can’t imagine my shock when she returned to class the following week with her skin completely healed. The student had said her skin started to heal after only a couple of applications of bio oil. I was flabbergasted and still have to tell people this story.
    I think I contacted the company to let them know my findings ( just for their records) they never replied!
    I still to this day cannot fathom out what ingredient cured this chemical burn.

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