Some people use mineral oil as a home remedy for a variety of problems. Yet others avoid it like poison. Should you buy it or toss it? This Q&A can help you decide.
Isn’t mineral oil a petroleum product? So is it safe to use?
Yes and yes. Like its relative petroleum jelly (petrolatum), mineral oil is an inexpensive byproduct of refining crude oil to make gasoline and other petroleum products. While impurities in untreated or lightly treated mineral oil (used in transmission fluid and gear oils, for instance) are carcinogenic, these are removed when mineral oil is further refined for use in skin care products and for sale in drugstores.
Is it true that mineral oil is bad for your skin?
Not at all. Like petroleum jelly, mineral oil is an effective emollient, which forms an oily layer on the skin that traps water. Thus it is a common ingredient in moisturizers and other skin care products; some people use mineral oil straight from the bottle to treat dry skin. Baby oil is just perfumed mineral oil. A 2012 article on diaper rash in U.S. Pharmacist noted that mineral oil is “a safe and effective emollient protectant for diaper rash.” But it suggested that the oil shouldn’t be allowed to build up on the skin without cleaning it off and reapplying (reasonable advice for most things you put on your skin) to prevent skin irritation.
What about the common belief that mineral oil clogs pores and thus leads to acne and blackheads? It’s a myth. Mineral oil is “noncomedogenic,” meaning it doesn’t clog pores, and it has low allergic potential.
Is it okay to consume mineral oil as a laxative?
We don’t recommend it. Mineral oil, taken orally, acts as a laxative because of its lubricating effect; it also helps stool retain water and thus stay soft. It’s sometimes advised temporarily for people who have pain caused by hemorrhoids or an anal fissure or after rectal surgery. However, it can have adverse effects, notably oily leakage from the anus and malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids from foods. Rarely but most seriously, it can be regurgitated and inhaled, potentially causing lung damage. This is especially a risk in bedridden people, small children, and anyone with difficulty swallowing.
Can mineral oil be used for ear problems?
It can help remove buildup of earwax. Typically you use an eyedropper to put a few drops of the oil (warmed to body temperature) into your ear, once or twice a day for several days; you can gently insert a cotton ball so the oil doesn’t drip out. Once the wax is soft and loose, you may be able to remove it with a gentle spray of water while showering. Don’t try this if you have ear pain. While mineral oil is sometimes used as a home remedy for certain kinds of earaches, you should consult your health care provider before trying it for this purpose.
Also see Is Petroleum Jelly Safe?