Unintended Side Effects of Mineral Oil: Are Your Skin Products Safe?
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Is Mineral Oil Bad for You?
Refined mineral oil is considered a hazardous substance and industrial workers exposed to its pure form are advised to immediately and thoroughly wash any areas of the skin which have come into contact with the product. Despite this fact, many common cosmetic products, including moisturizing creams, tanning lotions, baby products and more contain mineral as a primary ingredient due to its slippery nature which allows easy spreading across the skin. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology has conclusively linked the use of mineral oil containing moisturizing creams to increased tumor development in mice, yet human studies have yet to be completed. The absence of important human safety data is in large part due to the lack of testing procedures required prior to marketing cosmetic products (which are regulated by the FDA but do not require approval).
Various Forms of Mineral Oil and Its Many Names
Mineral oil is a bi-product of the petroleum industry which is isolated and collected during the distillation of gasoline. The oil is used in various forms for applications ranging from engine lubrication to the treatment of constipation. In its less refined forms, mineral oil has long been recognized as a human carcinogen. When used as an ingredient in cosmetic products, the refined version must be utilized. Even after refining, however, mineral oil may still contain contaminants from the original petroleum from which it was distilled and has been shown to accumulate in human fatty tissue. The saturated hydrocarbons present in mineral oil are also readily expressed in human breast milk. When listed as an ingredient in cosmetic products, mineral oil may appear with any of the following names:
- Paraffin oil or liquid paraffin, baby oil or white oil;
- Drakeol, petrolatum, or albolene;
- Adepsine, lignite, or mineral seal oils.
Why Refined Mineral Oil is Bad: Promotes Tumor Growth
With the increase of various forms of skin cancer in the United States, some researchers began to suspect the widespread use of mineral oil containing cosmetic products played a role in the formation of tumors of the skin. A well designed study published in 2008 tested four common mineral oil containing moisturizing creams on mice which had been pre-treated with UVB light. The light treatment was designed to simulate conditions experienced by many Americans who have been exposed to significant amounts of sunlight early in life and later develop one or more types of skin cancer. After a 100mg dose of any of the four creams tested was applied to these mice five days a week for a total of 17 weeks, the total number of tumors detected increased by a full 69 percent.
A "Custom Blend" Product Did Not Increase Tumor Development
To strengthen the results of the study, researchers applied a moisturizing cream produced with a custom designed list of ingredients free from mineral oil in any form. The mice were treated in exactly the same manner as those that received a daily dose of the mineral oil containing creams, yet did not show an increased rate of tumor development when compared to mice who were treated with water alone.
Human Studies on Mineral Oil Dangers Distinctly Absent
Despite the alarming results displayed by this nearly 10 year old study, no human safety testing has yet to be completed on the use of mineral oil in cosmetic products. Manufacturers are known to utilize this ingredient due to its slippery nature that promotes easy spreading of a cream or other product across the skin, yet numerous (and much safer) alternatives are known to exist. Coconut oil and other food grade oils provide many of the same properties as mineral oil but are not associated with any adverse health effects.
The FDA Does Not Require Testing Of Cosmetic Products
Manufacturers of cosmetic products are not required to undergo any approval process from the FDA. Although they are required to list the ingredients contained in the formulation, no specific safety testing is required before a product enters the market. The FDA does state that the safety of any cosmetic consumer product is the responsibility of the manufacturer and advises that each organization conduct whatever tests are necessary to determine such safety. In light of the 2008 independent study and the lack of initiative on the part of manufacturers to complete further safety testing of their products (and/or alter the formulations to utilize natural ingredients), this creates a potentially interesting scenario between cosmetic corporations, consumers, and professional attorneys.
Lawsuits in the Making
Class action lawsuits are designed to provide compensation and protection to groups of consumers who have unknowingly been exposed to hazardous products which were not sufficiently tested for safety before marketing to the general public. When considering that mineral oil (in less refined forms) is an acknowledged carcinogen and the fact that refined mineral oil is known to increase the formation of tumors in UVB treated mice, one could easily suspect that lawsuits against many cosmetic manufacturers are already brewing.
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