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Mineral oil is a clear odorless liquid that has been used routinely for many decades in a wide variety of cosmetics and personal care products. The mineral oil used in cosmetics and personal care products (also called “white mineral oil”) is a highly purified material obtained from refining petroleum. It is refined to meet specifications appropriate for its use in pharmaceuticals, foods and cosmetics and personal care products.
While the source of mineral oil (petroleum) often leads to criticism of its use, one must remember that the white mineral oil used in cosmetic products is extracted from the petroleum and highly purified, not unlike the extraction and purification of vegetable oils. The purification of mineral oil results in a liquid of sufficiently high quality that is safe for use in the U.S. as an over-the-counter (OTC) oral laxative and OTC skin protectant.
Mineral oil has long been recognized as an important part of many cosmetic formulations. Its unique feel and properties have enabled it to be used in a wide variety of cosmetics and personal care products, from bath oils, hair care products, to skin care cosmetics where it provides many benefits including moisturizing and skin softening. Reported uses for mineral oil include as a hair conditioning agent , skin conditioning agent - emollient, skin conditioning agent-occlusive, skin protectant and as a solvent .
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the safety of Mineral Oil and permits its use as a multipurpose direct food additive. FDA also permits the use of mineral oil as an active ingredient in the following OTC drug product categories: anorectal drugs, skin protectants and ophthalmic emollients.
European Union (E.U.)
Mineral oil may be used in cosmetics and personal care products marketed in Europe according to the general provisions of the Cosmetics Directive of the European Union.
Mineral oil as a food ingredient was reviewed in 2013 by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants. The Expert Committee allocated an Acceptable Daily Intake of 0-10 mg/kg/day for Class 1 low to medium viscosity Mineral Oil (i.e., food grade mineral oil, white mineral oil).
White mineral oil has a long history of safe use by humans in orally ingested and topically applied products. A re-evaluation of the use of certain mineral hydrocarbons used in the preparation of food items by regulators in the UK, however, prompted additional safety studies and a critical assessment of the toxicological effects of white mineral oil. As white mineral oil is present in many topically applied drug and non-drug products, it was of interest to review the toxicological effects of mineral oil produced by this route of exposure. Initial concern about possible tissue inflammation in liver and lymph nodes of rats after they orally ingested white mineral oils has been proven to be unfounded with no scientific basis for concern.
These studies were reviewed in 1996 by the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association’s (now known as the Personal Care Products Council) Mineral Oil Task Force as part of an examination of available published scientific literature. After a review of the literature, which included findings of negligible skin penetration for topically applied white mineral oil, the CTFA Task Force determined that there was no valid scientific evidence in the published literature of any hazard identified for topical exposure to white mineral oil at any dose in multiple species. This determination is supported by the long history of safe human use of white mineral oil in drug and non-drug topically applied products.
“The Scope of Mineral Oil in Personal Care Products and its Role in Cosmetic Formulation" by Morrison et al. (J. Appl. Cosmetol. 14, 111-118, July-September 1996)
Find out more about the regulation of over-the-counter drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Find out more about the regulation of Food Additives by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
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