Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mineral Oil - Safe for Babies, Massaging & Me?

We assume so much when we shop. That everything on sale is safe, that things for babies are especially safe, and that big business and the government have our best interests at heart and will protect us from unscrupulous products or manufacturers. Take mineral oil, for example. I mean, they sell it for babies as “Baby Oil”, so it must be OK, mustn’t it?

Common Question: “I use baby oil sometimes for my legs as they are very dry. I am thinking maybe I should just get some almond oil or something else? I have a small bottle baby oil and have just been using it. Is it good or is it not so good? My legs seem drier after using it for a week.

And the rather complex answer?

The name mineral oil by itself is deliberately vague and sounds innocuous enough. If you try to identify the correct chemical name, you’ll learn there actually isn’t one. Other names/synonyms for mineral oil are: Paraffin oil; Heat-treating oil; Hydraulic oil; Cable oil; Lubricating oil; Oil mist, refined mineral; mineral oil mist; oil mist, mineral, severely refined; Uvasol; Paraffin oils; Mineral oil hydrocarbon solvent (petroleum); Mineral oil (saturated parrafin oil); oil, petroleum; Nujol; liquid paraffin; white mineral oil; clearteck; drakeol; hevyteck; filtrawhite; frigol; kremol; kaydol; alboline; paroleine; Saxol; adepsine oil; glymol; lignite oil; blandol white mineral oil; carnea 21; Ervol; gloria; hydrocarbon oils; peneteck; primol; triona b; blandlube; crystosol; Molol; protopet; bayol f; crystol 325; fonoline; bayol 55; kondremul; neo-cultol; oil mist; penreco; perfecta; petrogalar; primol 355; primol d; tech pet f; Petroleum hydrocarbons; jute batching oil; paraffin oil (class); petrolatum, liquid; white oil; Mineral oil, aromatic; Mineral oil, paraffinic; Mineral Seal Oil; Electrical Insulating Oil; OIL MIST, MINERAL (MINERAL OIL)

Now that’s reassuring and all very natural-sounding, isn’t it? Especially when you consider that mineral oil is the primary ingredient for a number of leading brands of “natural” cosmetics. Not to mention baby products.

So what do the people who sell it have to say? The statement on the website of a major petroleum oil product supplier: “Pharmaceutical white oils are generally recognized as safe. The products are not known to have any allergenic, skin irritation or toxic side effects.” Do you believe that? If I buy a 50kg drum of “white oil” here in Thailand from the chemical supplier, it comes complete with a Hazchem warning, reminding me to use it in a well-ventilated space (it can cause and trigger asthma) and cautioning me that it cause skin dryness and irritation.

Negative Effects of Mineral Oil in Skin Care

A liquid produced by the distillation of petroleum, mineral oil is odorless, tasteless and inexpensive. It is a common ingredient in baby lotions, cold creams, ointments and cosmetics. Its slippery quality helps products spread easily across the skin; however, the Environmental Working Group lists mineral oil as a potential hazard due to its link to skin irritation, allergic reaction and cancer.

Stops skin “breathing” naturally.

Mineral oil coasts the skin with an impermeable layer that inhibits the skin's natural ability to breathe. Although product manufacturers claim that this helps locks moisture in the skin, opponents of mineral oil caution that this film interferes with the skin's ability to eliminate toxins through sweat. Mineral oil can also block pores and cause acne, potentially leading to long-term scarring. According to, this effect also prevents the absorption of any healthful ingredients in your moisturizers or skin treatment products.

Accelerates Drying.

Because mineral oil pulls moisture away from the skin, it can contribute to dry skin and chapping, even though it is sold to alleviate these skin conditions. According to Positive Health Online, this effect also robs newly formed cells of moisture, which interferes with normal cell development, slowing down the cell renewal rate and contributing to premature aging of the skin. While the sun is the number one cause of skin damage and premature aging, skin care products with mineral oil aren't helpful and may contribute to the damage.

Causes Skin Rashes.

According to, common side effects of mineral oil and petroleum jelly include mild itching, burning, stinging or dry skin. Severe side effects, in those who are allergic, may include rash, hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, mouth or tongue.

Linked to Cancer. 

According to the National Toxicology Program, unrefined or mildly refined mineral oil is a known carcinogen due to the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which naturally occur in coal and petroleum. PAHs have been linked to various cancers, including scrotal, gastrointestinal, sinonasal, bladder and lung cancer. (reference 5) Mineral oil used for cosmetic purposes is highly refined to remove PAHs, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that some over-the-counter products containing mineral oil now display a warning label. Consumer advocacy groups such as the Environmental Working Group advise exercising caution when using products containing mineral oil until more conclusive research is available.

And why is that research not being conducted? Start looking around and reading labels and you will find mineral oil is in the vast majority of all cosmetics, soaps and personal care products. Why? It’s cheap. Let’s just delicately say that the political will is simply not there to conduct research that would jeopardize the profits of the big players in the cosmetic and personal care product business.

The conclusion? If your health matters to you, choose only personal care products using natural plant-based oils. Read widely and make good, environmentally sustainable choices when you shop.


Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database: Mineral Oil
Positive Health Online: Mineral Oil Petroleum Derivative in Beauty Products Traditional Tanning Oils Contain Harsh Chemicals and Potentially Dangerous Ingredients Mineral Oil Side Effects
National Toxicology Program: Substance Profiles: Mineral Oil


  1. I bought some "food grade" mineral oil to use as directed by the makers of my new butcher block to seal the surface. If it's not safe, what should i use to seal the butcher block and treat my other cutting boards?

    1. A good quality cold-pressed sesame oil is great... you should use it from time to time. Also don't wash the blocks with soap or detergents, which will remove the protective oils.

  2. Good timing. I was just going to research this myself. Thank you.

  3. Always good information here! Thanks!