Mink oil is a product that is rendered from the insulating fatty layer under the skin of minks. It is widely used in cosmetic products, especially in Europe, and also appears in creams designed for shoe care. A number of claims are made about the benefits of this oil, but it primarily acts to moisturize and protect the skin. Regular use of a moisturizer will keep skin smoother, healthier, and less prone to damage.
Part of the genus Mustelidae, minks were once widely found across much of the Northern hemisphere. They are related to weasels, and they have long, sinuous bodies that are well adapted to both land and water. Minks also have famously luxurious coats, which caused them to be sought after as a source of fur. Trappers were probably the first people to notice the benefits of the animal's oil, which helped to soften their hands. They also rubbed the oil onto their shoes to make the leather more flexible and make the shoes more waterproof.
Traditionally, mink oil was collected after minks were slaughtered for their pelts. During the cleaning process, the thick layer of fat would be stripped away and rendered into oil. This method of extraction is still the most common, although some cosmetics companies harvest small amounts of oil from live minks. This is done by inserting a needle into the abdomen, an area with large amounts of fat, and extracting a small amount. This technique is not necessarily more humane, however, as many mink farms have notoriously poor living conditions.
Mink oil contains approximately 17% palmitoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that is also produced in the human body. Palmitoleic acid is used by the body to moisturize and lubricate the skin, and for those with dry skin, an external source of this acid can be beneficial. Many dietary supplements also contain it. Curiously, several botanical sources are actually higher in the acid, including sea buckthorn and macadamia nuts, although these ingredients are not as widely used in cosmetics. People seeking cruelty free sources should look for moisturizers with these ingredients.
In addition to a number of cosmetic products made with the oil that are designed to improve the condition of human skin, some shoe care companies also sell products that contain it. The creams for shoes are often bundled in with a waterproofer, so that the shoes can be waterproofed and conditioned at the same time. Applying moisturizers to leather shoes will help keep the material supple for longer, extending the life of the shoe.
Closely related to both weasels and otters, the mink is a semiaquatic animal most commonly found in North America and Europe. They are semiaquatic and typically dark-colored, and they are known for their carnivorous diet. By far, the most famous feature of these animals, though, is their fur. It is renowned for its remarkably soft texture, lightweight construction, and unparalleled longevity. All of these features have made it a popular option for use in fashion. Fur isn’t the only part of a mink that’s commonly harvested for commercial use, though. Mink oil is also a sought-after commodity that’s commonly used in consumer products. If you’re wondering how mink oil is obtained and used, read on for more information.
Obtaining Oil of Mink
Before it can be used in commercial products, mink oil must be harvested from the animal. Minks are often raised in captivity for the purpose of oil production, and when they are mature, they are killed and dissected for use in different products. Their coats are typically harvested to be used for coats and other fashion accessories, while their hides can be used to product oil of mink. There is a layer of fat underneath the hide that can be scraped and collected and then refined with high-temperature processing. This process of refinement typically takes place at around 230 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit. It is then saponified to minimize the free fatty acids contained in the solution. Once this process is complete, the oil of mink can be bottled, sold, and used for a range of different applications.
Oil of Mink Applications
Oil of mink can be used for a wide range of applications. It is an incredibly versatile oil due to its lightweight viscosity and long-lasting effect. The most common uses, though, involves the treatment of leather. Mink oil is commonly applied to leather accessories as a conditioning treatment. It can be easily applied with a clean cloth, with the excess wiped off, and left to absorb for a few hours. The oil will darken the leather and make it softer and more comfortable. Additionally, the application of mink oil will maximize the water resistance of the leather, making it last longer than it would without treatment.
In addition to its use as a leather conditioner, mink oil is commonly used in an array of cosmetic and personal care items. It is found in many products used for skin and hair care because it acts as a natural moisturizer. This is because of the high concentration of palmitoleic acid found in the oil. Palmitoleic acid is chemically similar to sebum found in human skin, which keeps skin supple and protected. Though its benefits are obvious, use of mink oil in cosmetic products has gradually declined as more companies are committed to adopting formulas without animal byproducts.
Oil of Mink Controversy
There have been many controversies linked to the use of mink oil. Most of these stem from the oil’s animal origin. It’s true that animal rights’ activists have been effective in pressuring many companies to discontinue use of mink oil in cosmetic and personal care products. This makes it a risky choice, and many companies would rather avoid the risk of backlash. This controversy eventually escalated to the banishment of mink farming in many countries and states in the U.S. California became the first state to take action in 2019, when it banned the manufacture of fur clothing within state limits. This ban effectively outlawed the manufacture of mink oil, too.
Several countries have acted similarly, with Israel becoming the first country in the world to ban all sales of real fur in 2021. The United Kingdom arguably led efforts to illegalize fur, though, with legislation dating back to 2000 prohibiting fur farming. All efforts to outlaw fur essentially outlaw mink oil, too, since mink oil is a byproduct of the fur harvesting process. If these laws continue to expand internationally, oil of mink may become increasingly rare.
Oil of Mink Alternatives
Luckily, there are alternatives to mink oil that may have a similar effect. There are some vegan companies that offer conditioner products that may act as a mink oil substitute. If you are not opposed to using an animal product but would prefer not to use mink oil, you may try neatsfoot oil, which is harvested from the bones and feet of cattle. If you’re looking for a moisturizing agent for cosmetic use that can be used instead of mink oil, try coconut oil or jojoba oil instead.