Mineral oil

Mineral oil
Bottle of mineral oil as sold in the U.S.

A mineral oil is any of various colorless, odorless, light mixtures of alkanes in the C15 to C40 range from a non-vegetable (mineral) source, particularly a distillate of petroleum.

The name mineral oil by itself is imprecise, having been used to label many specific oils over the past few centuries. Other names, similarly imprecise, include white oil, liquid paraffin, and liquid petroleum.

Most often, mineral oil is a liquid by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline and other petroleum-based products from crude oil. A mineral oil in this sense is a transparent, colorless oil composed mainly of alkanes [1]and cyclic paraffins, related to petroleum jelly (also known as "white petrolatum"). It has a density of around 0.8 g/cm3.[2] Mineral oil is a substance of relatively low value, and it is produced in very large quantities. Mineral oil is available in light and heavy grades, and can often be found in drug stores.

There are three basic classes of refined mineral oils:



Some of the imprecision in the definition of the names (e.g., "mineral oil", "white oil") reflects usage by buyers and sellers who did not know, and usually did not need to care about, the precise chemical makeup. Prior to the late 19th century, the chemical science to determine such makeup was unavailable in any case, so the fact that one name ended up applied to various oils is unsurprising. A similar lexical situation occurred with the term "white metal".



In the United States, mineral oil is generally safe for human contact and consumption and has been approved by the FDA in personal care and cosmetic products, as well as for an additive for food to 10 mg/kg of daily consumption.[3] The World Health Organization classifies mineral oils (in untreated or lightly treated industrial-grade form) as Group 1 carcinogens to humans.[4] According to a UK news story dated March 2011, mineral oils used in ink can get into foods when they are packed in recycled cardboard. Because of the danger of cancer, manufacturers are to stop using recycled cardboard in packaging.[5]



Cell culture

Mineral oil of special purity is often used as an overlay covering microdrops of culture medium in petri dishes, during the culture of oocytes and embryos in IVF and related procedures. The use of oil presents several advantages over the open culture system: it allows for several oocytes and embryos to be cultured simultaneously, but observed separately, in the same dish; it minimizes evaporation (therefore concentration and pH changes) of the medium; it allows for a significant reduction of the medium volume used (as few as 20 microlitres per oocyte instead of several millilitres for the batch culture); and it serves as a temperature buffer minimizing thermal shock to the cells while the dish is taken out of the incubator for observation.

Potential medical risks

The application of four popular moisturizers increased the incidence of skin cancer in mice who were irradiated twice a week for 20 weeks.[6] A fifth moisturizer, specially prepared without mineral oil and sodium lauryl sulphate, had no such effect.[7] This study may not directly translate to humans as mice have a thin skin and live in the dark, unlike humans whose bodies are accustomed to sun exposure.

Veterinary uses

Certain mineral oils are used in livestock vaccines, as an adjuvant to stimulate a cell-mediated immune response to the vaccinating agent. In the poultry industry, plain mineral oil can also be swabbed onto the feet of chickens infected with scaly mites on the shank, toes, and webs. Mineral oil suffocates these tiny parasites. In beekeeping, food grade mineral oil saturated paper napkins placed in hives are used as a treatment for tracheal and other mites. It is also used along with a cotton swab to remove un-shed skin on reptiles such as lizards and snakes.


Mineral oil is a common ingredient in baby lotions, cold creams, ointments and cosmetics. It is a lightweight inexpensive oil that is odorless and tasteless. It can be used on eyelashes to prevent brittleness and breaking and, in cold cream, is also used to remove creme make-up and temporary tattoos. One of the common concerns regarding the use of mineral oil is its presence on several lists of comedogenic substances. These lists of comedogenic substances were developed many years ago and are frequently quoted in the dermatological literature.

A study reported in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2005) found that the type of highly refined and purified mineral oil found in cosmetic and skincare products is noncomedogenic (does not clog pores).[8]

Mechanical, electrical and industrial

Mineral oil is used in a variety of industrial/mechanical capacities as a non-conductive coolant or thermal fluid in electric components as it does not conduct electricity, while simultaneously functioning to displace air and water. Some examples are in transformers where it is known as transformer oil, and in high voltage switchgear where mineral oil is used as an insulator and as a coolant to disperse switching arcs.[9] The dielectric constant of mineral oil ranges from 2.3 at 50 °C to 2.1 at 200 °C.[10]

Electric space heaters sometimes use mineral oil as a heat transfer oil. Because it is noncompressible, mineral oil is used as a hydraulic fluid in hydraulic machinery and vehicles. It is also used as a lubricant and a cutting fluid. Light mineral oil is also used in textile industries and used as a jute batching oil. An often cited limitation of mineral oil is that it is poorly biodegradable; in some applications, vegetable oils such as cottonseed oil or rapeseed oil may be used instead.[11]

Food preparation

Because of its properties that prevent water absorption, combined with its lack of flavor and odor, food grade mineral oil is a popular preservative for wooden cutting boards, salad bowls and utensils. Rubbing a small amount of mineral oil into a wooden kitchen item periodically will prevent absorption of food odors and ease cleaning, as well as maintain the integrity of the wood, which is otherwise subjected to repeated wetting and drying in the course of use. The oil fills small surface cracks that may otherwise harbor bacteria.[12]

It is occasionally used in the food industry, particularly for candy. In this application, it is typically used for the glossy effect it produces, and to prevent the candy pieces from adhering to each other. It has been discouraged for use in children's foods, though it is still found in many candies, including Swedish Fish.[13]

It is added to some food products as a substitute for fat.

It is sometimes used as a lubricant in enema preparations, because most of the ingested material is excreted in the stool rather than being absorbed by the body.[14]

It is also used on cooking utensils or to grease cookware and bakeware to prevent food from sticking.

The use of food grade mineral oil is self-limiting because of its laxative effect. The maximum daily intake is calculated to be about 100 mg, of which some 80 mg are contributed from its use on machines in the baking industry.[14]


Mineral oil's ubiquity has led to its use in some niche applications as well.

Disposable razors dipped in mineral oil prevent the accumulation of rust and mineral build-up from tap water.[15]

It is commonly used to create a "wear" effect on new clay poker chips, which can otherwise only be accomplished through prolonged use. The chips are either placed in mineral oil (and left there for a short period of time), or the oil is applied to each chip individually, then rubbed clean. This removes any chalky residue left over from manufacture, and also improves the look and "feel" of the chips.[16]

It is the principal fuel in some types of gel-type scented candles.[17]

Mineral oil has been used to immerse computers in order to absorb heat and cool the system in some custom-built projects.[18][19]

Veterinarian-grade mineral oil, an inexpensive source for mineral oil, is frequently used by amateur radio operators as coolant in RF dummy loads.

Pelletizing machines used in food manufacturing and other industries are often cleaned between runs by forcing whole oats moistened with mineral oil through the machine. This method is recommended by the machine's manufacturer.

A folk use of mineral oil (and some skin lotions are rich in it) is in removing some difficult to remove paper labels that some manufacturer or vendors stick on their products.

Mineral oil is sometimes used in fire breathing performances.

See also


  1. ^ [1], efsa.europa.eu
  2. ^ "Mechanical properties of materials". Kaye and Laby Tables of Physical and Chemical Constants. National Physical Laboratory. http://www.kayelaby.npl.co.uk/general_physics/2_2/2_2_1.html. Retrieved 2008-03-06. 
  3. ^ Aquaphor Alternatives for Acne-prone Skin? Doctor Answers, Tips
  4. ^ International Agency for Research on Cancer (17 June 2011). "Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1–102" (PDF). Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer. pp. 3, 19. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/ClassificationsGroupOrder.pdf. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "Cereal box health warning after recycled cardboard study". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2011-03-08. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8367881/Cereal-box-health-warning-after-recycled-cardboard-study.html. 
  6. ^ Journal of Investigative Dermatology - Abstract of article: Tumorigenic Effect of Some Commonly Used Moisturizing Creams when Applied Topically to UVB-Pretreated High-Risk Mic...
  7. ^ The Great Beyond: Link between skin cancer and moisturisers in hairless mice
  8. ^ DiNardo, J. C. (2005), Is mineral oil comedogenic?. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 4: 2–3. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2005.00150.x
  9. ^ Suwarno Darma, I.S.; Darma, I. S. (2008). "Dielectric Properties of Mixtures between Mineral Oil and Natural Ester". Proceedings of 2008 International Symposium on Electrical Insulating Materials: 514. doi:10.1109/ISEIM.2008.4664471. 
  10. ^ Shkol'nikov, V. M.; L. A. Bronshtein, Yu. N. Shekhter, and O. L. Drozdova (1977). "Electrical and viscosity properties of mineral oil components". Chemistry and Technology of Fuels and Oils (Springer New York) 13 (7): 479. doi:10.1007/BF00730107. 
  11. ^ Oommen, T.V. (2002). "Vegetable Oils for Liquid-Filled Transformers". Electrical Insulation Magazine, IEEE 18 (1): 6. doi:10.1109/57.981322. 
  12. ^ Barbara Ingham (October 2007). "Care and Cleaning of Butcher Blocks and Wooden Cutting Boards". Food Safety & Health. University of Wisconsin–Madison. http://www.foodsafety.wisc.edu/assets/pdf_Files/Care%20and%20Cleaning%20of%20Butcher%20Blocks%20and%20Wooden%20Cutting%20Boards.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  13. ^ "Mineral Oil Liquid Facts and Comparisons". Wolters Kluwer Health – A to Z Drugs Facts. Drugs.com. 2009-06-03. http://www.drugs.com/cdi/mineral-oil-liquid.html. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  14. ^ a b WHO Food Additive Monograph 70.39, retrieved 20 Sep 2009
  15. ^ Nora Dunn. "Save Money on Shaving with These Razor Tricks". Widebread: Living Large on a Small Budget. http://www.wisebread.com/save-money-on-shaving-with-these-razor-tricks. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  16. ^ John Tucker. "Oiling Chips FAQ". Poker Chip Reviews. http://www.pokerchipreviews.com/oiling.html. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  17. ^ "Economic Data on Candle and Incense Production and Sales" (PDF). EPA Report: Candles and Incense As Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis And Literature Review. United States Environmental Protection Agency. January 2001. http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/pubs/600r01001/600R01001.pdf. Retrieved 2010-10-11. "Gel candles use liquids such as mineral oil, terpene-type chemicals, or modified hydrocarbons as their primary fuel." 
  18. ^ John Bach (2007-05-05). "Mineral Oil Submerged Computer". Puget Custom Computers. http://www.pugetsystems.com/submerged.php. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  19. ^ Patrick Norton; Roger Chang (2009-03-09). "How to Build an Oil-Cooled Aquarium PC". Revision3. http://revision3.com/systm/oilcooling. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 

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