What Is Mineral Oil?

How Mineral Oil Can Can Treat Dry Skin, Eczema, Constipation, and More

Mineral oil is an over-the-counter chemical substance made from naturally occurring crude petroleum oil. Mineral oils are colorless, transparent, oily liquids that are odorless and tasteless. They are insoluble in water and ethanol, soluble in benzene, ether, petroleum ether, carbon disulfide, and volatile oils.

A complex series of processing steps are needed to make mineral oils with the physical properties and purity required to make cosmetics, food, and pharmaceuticals safe to consume.  

Also Known As

Mineral oils are also called base oils, mineral base oils, baby oils, or lubricant base oils.

Mineral oil dropper
Carol Yepes / Moment / Getty Images

Health Benefits

Mineral oils are commonly used and have numerous health benefits ranging from softening your skin to easing constipation. Cosmetics have been formulated with mineral oil for more than a century.

Dry Skin

Most people choose mineral oil because of its potent moisturizing and skin softening effects. Many skin products contain mineral oils because they're such effective moisturizers.

If you have xerosis, or very dry skin, mineral oil can help. Mineral oils create a barrier on the skin that seals in moisture and reduces trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) (water evaporation through the skin). This is why they work best after a bath or shower when the skin is damp.

The feet are some of the driest parts of our bodies. When your feet are dry and cracked, applying mineral oil with some water before bed may do wonders to make them soft again. Try covering your feet with socks to help lock in more moisture and prevent your sheets from becoming greasy.

Constipation

Mineral oil is a lubricant and a laxative. Taking mineral oil orally or using it as an enema can help ease acute constipation. Mineral oil is different from a stool softener, which adds moisture to stools to make them easier to pass. Instead, mineral oil works as a laxative to induce a bowel movement.

It also acts as a lubricant that makes it easier for the stool to slide down the colon if it gets stuck in your lower bowels. This "slickness" eases the pain associated with an internal tear (fissure) or hemorrhoid during bowel movements by making the stool less resistant as it comes out.

It can take up to eight hours to have a bowel movement. Try to time taking mineral oil with this in mind.

Eczema

If your skin is irritated and itchy from eczema, mineral oil may be a great soothing and moisturizing agent. Mineral oil is one of the best topical products for eczema. Ointments, such as mineral oil, have the highest oil content, so they typically don't burn sensitive skin.

Mineral oil is most effective for eczema when you apply it to wet skin. It can be a good alternative if you prefer to avoid cortisone creams, especially if you are putting it on your baby's tender skin.

Ear Wax Removal

You can safely remove ear wax buildup with mineral oil. Mineral oil helps dissolve ear wax and moisturizes the ear canal, making it easier for the wax to dislodge. You can put several drops of mineral oil inside the ear canal with a dropper.

You should first check with your doctor if you wear hearing aids or have had eardrum perforations before trying to remove ear wax at home.

Cradle Cap and Adult Dandruff

Cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) affects many infants in the first year of life, which can be frustrating for parents. Rubbing a small amount of mineral oil on your baby's head can treat cradle cap.

After applying, leave the oil on for a few hours, then gently massage the scalp with a soft brush and comb out the loosened scales. Be sure to always shampoo your baby's hair after applying mineral oil because oil buildup makes cradle cap worse.

If you are using mineral oil for adult dandruff, use the same steps to dislodge your flakes.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions

Mineral oil is generally considered safe. When used topically, it rests primarily on the upper skin layers, so there is little risk of systemic side effects. But there are some reactions to watch for with other uses.

Oral

Follow these precautions;

  • Do not take mineral oils for more than a week unless your doctor recommends it. Using laxatives for too long can make your body dependent on them for regular bowel movements, damage the bowel, and cause malnutrition. Long-term use can also create problems with the amounts of water and salts in your body.
  • People who are pregnant should avoid mineral oil. Ingesting mineral oils can interfere with the absorption of some vitamins by the pregnant person, which can cause hemorrhaging in newborns.
  • You should not take mineral oil and the drug docusate (Colace, Correctol, Peri-Colac e, Surfakor) or any other stool softener at the same time.
  • Inhaling mineral oil is particularly dangerous and can cause pneumonia.
  • Taking mineral oils within two hours of another drug can reduce the potency of your medication.
  • People who have trouble swallowing shouldn't take mineral oil since it may get into the lungs by accident and cause pneumonia.
  • According to the Beers Criteria, geriatric patients should avoid taking mineral oil orally because of the potential for aspiration or other adverse effects. 

Enema

Mineral oil-based enemas (Fleet) can cause skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue; severe diarrhea, or difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. You should report any of these side effects immediately to your doctor.

Other side effects include:

  • Oil leakage from the rectum
  • Rectal skin irritation
  • Loose stools
  • Lower stomach discomfort or cramps
  • Nausea

Topical

Mineral oil can make you susceptible to increased ultraviolet (UV) ray penetration, which is a risk for skin cancer.

Dosage and Preparation

The following mineral oil dosages are recommended by the Prescribers' Digital Reference manual.

Constipation Oral Dosage

Infants and children aged 6 and younger should not take laxatives generally unless directed by a doctor. The same is true for mineral oil. Children are more likely to inhale mineral oil because of their young age, increasing the risk of pneumonia. These are the recommended dosages for oral administration for constipation:

  • Adults, adolescents and children 12 years or older: The recommended dose is 30 to 90 milliliters (mL) per day PO (meaning by mouth) as needed to relieve constipation. The maximum daily dose may be taken as a single dose or divided in up to three equal parts. It should not be used for longer than one week unless directed by a physician.
  • Children 6 to 11 years: The recommended dose is 10 to 30 mL per day PO as needed to relieve constipation. The maximum daily dose may be taken as a single dose or divided in up to three equal parts. It should not be used for longer than one week unless directed by a physician.
  • Infants and Children Under 6 years: Safety and efficacy have not been established.

Rectal Dosage (Rectal Enema)

These dosages are recommended for constipation, administered via rectal enema:

  • Adults, Adolescents, and Children 12 years or Older: The recommendation is 120 mL rectally as a single dose. Do not use more than one enema per day. It should not be used longer than one week unless directed by physician.
  • Children 2 years to 11 years: The recommendation is 60 mL rectally as a single dose. Do not use more than one enema per day. It should not be used longer than one week unless directed by physician.

Maximum Dosage

Do not exceed these dosages:

  • Adults: The recommendation is 90 mL/day PO or one rectal enema/day PR (meaning per rectum) for no longer than one week.
  • Geriatric: The recommendation is 90 mL/day PO or one rectal enema/day PR for no longer than one week.
  • Adolescents: The recommendation is 90 mL/day PO or one rectal enema/day PR for no longer than one week.
  • Children 12 years: 90 mL/day PO or one rectal enema/day PR for no longer than one week.
  • Children 6 to 11 years: 30 mL/day PO or 1/2 rectal enema/day PR for no longer than one week.
  • Children 2 to 5 years: Oral safety and efficacy have not been established; 1/2 enema/day PR for no longer than one week.
  • Children under 2 years, infants, and neonates: Do not use.

Other Questions

It's important to understand what you are putting in and on your body. Here are a few common questions people ask about mineral oil.

Is mineral oil bad for your skin?

Mineral oil is noncomedogenic, which means it doesn’t clog pores. It was introduced into cosmetic products in the 1800s and has a long record of safe use. When used topically, mineral oil primarily sits on the outer layers of the skin and only a minor amount reaches deeper skin layers. Given the lack of deep absorption, the risk of you having a bad reaction is low.

Does mineral oil cause cancer?

Cosmetic products containing mineral oil don't present a risk to your health under normal use conditions. It is important to understand that the type of highly refined, purified mineral oil used in cosmetics and personal care products is different from the “crude” or unrefined forms of mineral oil used in the automotive, railroad, and aviation industries.

Does the Federal Drug Administration regulate mineral oil?

The FDA permits the use of mineral oil as an active ingredient in some over-the-counter drug product categories, including drugs administered in the rectum, skin protectants, and drugs for dry eyes.

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Article Sources
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