Mineral oil, is it bad for you? Debunking the myths and the Ear Pro test case
We started developing Ear Pro in 2017 and after much testing and experimenting with different ingredients as well as discussions with preeminent experts in the field, we decided on the use of mineral oil. This decision was based on science, research and real world trials.
I have since discovered an amazing amount of controversy from proponents of “natural” or plant based oils and even some highly educated individuals. It seems the mineral oil debate continues and there is a lot of misinformation out there.
I had an enlightening and kind of scary conversation with a doctor recently. I will not mention his name as I am sure he would rather not read that reference here but he is an educated man and sadly in charge of testing and assessing similar products for their safety. He said, and I quote “Mineral oil is essentially kerosene and putting it in your ears is akin to dousing yourself with gasoline”. He said this while he was rubbing Nivea skin cream into his 6 year old daughter’s shoulders. Once I pointed out to him that Nivea uses mineral oil in almost all of their skin care products, especially the ones he rubs on his children, he grudgingly agreed to do more research.
I have not heard back from him.
Unfortunately I see and hear this type of uninformed opinion often and commonly from people who should really know otherwise. I therefore decided it was time to dig deeply into these myths and see if there were any clinical studies to support these mineral oil haters. I also wanted to find out where the negative opinions were coming from.
First let’s get into what exactly mineral oil is, its uses and see if we can find answers to the most common questions people have about it. Then we can have a look at where all the bad press comes from.
What is mineral oil really?
Mineral oil is fossilized plant and animal matter that has lain in mineral deposits underground for between 10 million and many hundreds of millions of years. Without going into too much detail, zooplankton and phytoplankton (animal and plant) die and settle to the bottom of the ocean and are then covered with silt, layer after layer. Over millions of years with low oxygen levels they form layers of oils and gases. Kerosene and gasoline are two products that can be derived from the raw materials but if you remove all the nasties and refine it completely, you get the purest of natural oils completely safe for human use with a great shelf life. Pharmaceutical grade mineral oil.
Ear Pro uses mineral oil for many reasons. It is amazing as a water repellent, so many oils have been tested and mineral oil is not only better, it is far better. It is also one of the safest and cleanest oils you can put in your body (that includes vegetable and essential oils). The amount of data and testing that has been done with mineral oil over the past 200 years is staggering and not one peer reviewed study in all that time has linked mineral oil to skin irritation, acne, or disease.
Myths of mineral oil
There are many myths and questions running around so I thought I better give some answers for the most common questions
Is mineral oil carcinogenic – does it cause cancer?
Unfiltered or unrefined “crude” oil will contain PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) which have been linked to cancer in laboratory experiments. Refined mineral oil has had these elements removed and the resulting pharmaceutical grade mineral oil has been used in cosmetics, oral laxatives and others since the 1800’s with no quantifiable ill effects. It is one of the best studied and safest oils we use as humans.
Is mineral oil comedogenic – does it block your pores?
No, it does not. There are a few folks who say that if you are acne prone, you should avoid using it but this has never been shown to be a side effect in any clinical trials. Whenever a product that uses mineral oil has been linked to issues of this kind, it is normally in a mixture with other elements that are more likely the cause (i.e. plant oils).
Ear Pro relies on pure pharmaceutical grade mineral oil with only one added ingredient to provide a water repellent layer between your skin and the outside world. We don’t want water to stick to the skin in your ears and cause pain or bring the nasty bacteria with it.
How does mineral oil repel water? Does it block your pores?
Mineral oil is a large molecule that fills the gaps in your skin and attaches to it without being absorbed by the skin. Essentially it creates a thin layer over the skin that prevents moisture from getting out and water from attaching to the skin.
This is why skin creams make your skin feel silky and smooth. Water is a sticky molecule but it cannot stick to the oil, as you have seen when oil and water are combined, they do not mix. Water will stick to other water molecules quite well. When you spray Ear Pro in your ear canal, the skin will not allow water to hold on and any water flowing into the ear canal will simply flow out.
Your body does not absorb or use the mineral oil, it just naturally washes away over time. With Ear Pro, this allows you to have at least 2 hours of fun time in the water without worrying about the water sticking in your ears.
Allergic reactions? Skin irritation?
The incidence of allergic reactions to mineral oil is much lower than most plant based oils, especially lower than essential oils. The main reason for any kind of reaction is likely more due to additives and contaminants in the oil than the oil itself. Ear Pro uses only the purest refined mineral oil and the level of oregano oil in the mixture is 40 times lower than the lowest documented irritational level.
Is it a petroleum product? The myth of petroleum products.
When people think of petroleum, they think of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, dead puppies and the like.
The name mineral oil is simply used to differentiate oils that are produced from fossilized deposits and oils that are produced from more recently living matter (plant oils). The most common human industry engaged in the refinement of mineral oil is the petroleum industry but to say it is a petroleum product is maybe a bit naive. The petroleum industry has, understandably, taken a lot of bad press. The burning of fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide but the products we use are not about burning and carbon emissions. Mineral oil is really just fossilized plant and animal material at the end of the day. As one person put it “Mineral oil is made of animal and plant material, it’s like the boss of natural ingredients. Also it’s fun to rub a bit of dinosaur onto my skin.”
Is mineral oil flammable?
Flammable means that an oil has the danger of lighting on fire when brought to a certain temperature or exposed to a naked flame. The “flashpoint” is the temperature where the fluid gives off enough vapor to be ignited and burn by itself. To measure this, you heat up an oil in a sealed container very slowly and every few degrees open the top and pass an ignition source over the top. The temperature where the vapor coming off the liquid ignites is called the flashpoint.
OSHA (The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration) (1910.106(a)(19) states that any liquids that have a flashpoint at or below 199.4 degrees Fahrenheit (93 Celsius) are flammable and others are not.
Refined mineral oil has a flashpoint of 335 degrees Fahrenheit (168 degrees Celsius) which makes it very far from being considered flammable. Extra virgin olive oil’s flashpoint is about the same, lower grade olive oil ignites at lower temperatures, around 300F.
Most essential oils have much lower flashpoints, 100 to 215 degrees Fahrenheit (37 to 102 Celsius)
All oils can burn and some essential oils are considered flammable but mineral oil is not any more flammable than the olive oil you keep on your kitchen counter. (and use in your cooking)
Does mineral oil go bad? Shelf life.
Clear, refined mineral oil itself will last as long as you are alive and beyond. It is the additives that might go bad. Food grade mineral oil (what you would rub on your kitchen cutting board to keep it in good condition) has a few additives but pharmaceutical grade mineral oil does not. Ear Pro contains only pharmaceutical grade mineral oil and we add only a small amount of oregano oil. Such a small amount in fact that it is protected from going bad by the total encasement in the mineral oil. By law, Ear Pro is required to publish a 3 year shelf life but as a hydrophobic, it will last many times that long and as an antimicrobial, three years is a very modest estimation of the actual shelf life.
Bad press – Who says it is bad for you?
There are a few people out there who have come out publicly against the use of mineral oil but who are these people and what are their motivations?
The peer reviewed research clearly points to mineral oil as being very clean and healthy for human use, there literally has been no properly conducted research to say that it is in any way dangerous for humans in the pharmaceutical grade of refinement.
So after searching down the origins of statements like “Mineral oil is carcinogenic” and “Mineral oil is the #2 most common cause for aging skin” I found two voices in the skin care/medical field that seem to be the root.
# 1 by a long shot is a Dr. Obagi.
Dr. Obagi is a Syrian-American dermatologist who is the founder and medical director of Z O Skin Health, Inc. based in Beverly Hills, California. He is also the head of the Obagi Skin Health Institute.
Dr. Obagi develops and owns a line of skin care products and in his efforts to stand out and differentiate himself from the field, he has gone on a long and storied bashing campaign of mineral oil based products. His influence is rather far reaching as he has been responsible for teaching students at Johns Hopkins university on skin care and ingredients. His bias can be seen in many of the articles written against the use of mineral oil as people either quote a Johns Hopkins study (which does not exist) or use direct quotes of his, likely without knowing it.
The second voice is a company called Arbonne which also has chosen to bash Mineral oil use seemingly in order to differentiate themselves from the majority of skin care products. Again they are often quoted word for word as if the info came from a peer reviewed source.
Most misinformation that can be found flowing around the interwebs appears to tie back to these two sources.
Ear Pro proudly uses pharmaceutical grade mineral oil in our ear spray as it performs exactly as we need it to, is 100% safe for our ears and is proven safe through hundreds of years of human use.
Some links for further reading
Various Opinions Positive
Various Opinions Neutral
Various Opinions Negative