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.