An Introduction to Mineral Oil

Full bottle of mineral oil.

Angela Mabray / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mineral oil acts as a lubricant. When ingested, it functions as a laxative. Mineral oil can be found in furniture polish, wood treatment products, stainless steel cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and air fresheners.

What Is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is an odorless, colorless liquid that's the product of highly refined, purified, and processed petroleum. Because of its ability to prevent water loss, mineral oil is usually in cosmetics, baby lotions, cold creams, and ointments.


As noted in the U.S. National Library of Medicine's Toxicology database entry on "Mineral Oil," the following terms may be used to describe it: Adepsine oil, Alboline, Balneol, Bayol F, Bayol 55, Blandlube, Crystosol, Drakeol, Flexon 845, Fonoline, Glymol, Heavy Liquid Petrolatum, Heavy Mineral Oil, Irgawax 361, Kaydol, Kondremul, Liquid Paraffin, Liquid Petrolatum, Liquid Vaseline, MagiSol 44, Mineral Oils, Neo-Cultol, Nujol, Paraffin Oil(s), Paraffins, Parol, Paroleine, Peneteck, Penreco, Perfecta, Petrogalar, Petrolatum Liquid, Primold, Primol 355, Protopet, Saxol, Shellflex 371N, Sunpar 150, Tech Pet F, Ultrol 7, Uvasol, White Mineral Oil, White Oils

Other Uses

Mineral oil is used in makeup, skincare, personal care, pharmaceutical, and pesticide products, and as a lubricant base oil to produce other oils, such as those for car engines, machinery, etc. It may also be added to human food (e.g., as a food lubricant) or animal feed as pointed out by the International Program on Chemical Safety.


When mineral oil is used in personal care, food, and pharmaceutical products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors it. For cleaning, pesticide, and industrial uses, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates it.

Health and Safety

Mineral oil in mist form can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs as noted in a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Also, "untreated" or "mildly treated" mineral oil is carcinogenic as explained in the American Cancer Society's article, "Known and Probable Human Carcinogens." However, it is important to point out that white, food- and pharmaceutical-grade mineral oils are not considered human carcinogens according to the "Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition (2011)" by the National Toxicology Program. So, if you must use a product with mineral oil, select one with highly refined white mineral oil!.

Because of all the health concerns, several agencies, including OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have set limits on the amount of mineral oil mist workers should be exposed to.

Environmental Effects

Mineral oil is not an environmentally friendly oil because it doesn't biodegrade well and it's not from a renewable resource. As stated in the 2009 article, "Biodegradation of Mineral Oils—A Review," published in the African Journal of Biotechnology, mineral oil "generally has poor biodegradability: between 0 to 40 percent." Because of this, the authors note that the development of vegetable oil alternatives should be pursued, because they are more eco-friendly.

Green Alternatives

There are plenty of products on the market that don't contain mineral oil and do just as good a job, so why not seek them out? For example, instead of an air freshener with mineral oil in it, try a green air freshener instead. Or, instead of a stainless steel cleaner with mineral oil in it, try a cleaner with natural, plant-based oils, such as Better Life's Einshine Stainless Steel Cleaner. Be sure to read product labels carefully because even some products that are marketed as green or all-natural may contain mineral oil.