Imagine rubbing petroleum byproducts on your baby's skin. That is exactly what you do every time you use baby oil. Baby oil and mineral oil are mixtures of petroleum distillation byproducts. Although refined to meet specifications for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and even food, mineral oil and baby oil are hydrocarbon compounds derived from petrochemicals.
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Mineral oil is a hydrocarbon compound also known as paraffin oil, liquid petrolatum, white mineral oil and Nujol. The only difference between baby oil and mineral oil in general is that baby oil has added fragrance.
Mineral oil can be taken as a laxative in two ways: as a liquid by mouth on an empty stomach at bedtime or as a rectal enema. When taken as a laxative, mineral oil coats the surface of your intestines preventing your body from absorbing water. The extra water causes your stool to swell and soften, and stimulates your intestines to have a bowel movement. Mineral oil also lubricates your intestines, easing the passage of your stool.
As a moisturizer, mineral oil and baby oil coat the external surface of your skin, forming a barrier to help prevent the evaporation of water, as well as lubricating the outer layer. Massaging your baby's skin with mineral or baby oil also enhances parent-baby bonding. Certain precautions need to be taken when using mineral or baby oil for medical purposes. Mineral oil taken within two hours of other medicines, vitamins or foods can interfere with their absorption into the body. When taken with stool softeners, the mineral oil can be absorbed into your body instead of simply coating the intestines, which could prove harmful.
Mineral oil is used in small amounts as a lubricant or releasing agent in baking pans and trays. Baby oil, because of the added fragrance, would not be used for this purpose. Mineral oil can be found in food from trace residue on those cooking surfaces or from the surfaces of knives used to cut bread dough. Mineral oil is also used directly on foods, such as a coating for fruit or in foods as a fat substitute. Because mineral oil can interfere with absorption of foods and nutrients when taken internally, the use of mineral oil in foods specifically intended for children carries some risk.
Both mineral oil and baby oil appear as a clear, oily liquid. Mineral oil is odorless, while baby oil has a fragrance added to match a specific standard desired by the manufacturer. Both are insoluble in water and have an extremely high boiling point, about 500 to 625 degrees Fahrenheit. Both are stable under ordinary room temperature conditions.
Mineral oil and baby oil have potentially negative health effects. Inhalation can irritate the respiratory tract leading to coughing, shortness of breath, and if aspirated into the lungs, can cause chemical pneumonia. Toxic levels taken internally can result in nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. If this occurs, it is important not to induce vomiting, but rather give the victim large quantities of water to help dilute the effects.
Prolonged contact with the skin can cause irritation. Fumes can irritate eyes. People with pre-existing skin disorders or impaired lung function might be hypersensitive to these potentially irritating effects.
Although mineral oil can be used as a laxative, it is not recommended for extended use. Mineral oil blocks nutrient and vitamin absorption and can build up in tissues. Some common side effects of using mineral oil as a laxative include loss of normal bowel response, nausea and cramps. Other, less common side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and anal leakage of oil.