Paraffin oils are petroleum products. These oils are used in a variety of industries ranging from food production to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and engineering. Liquid paraffin, also known as "white paraffin" or "mineral oil" is transparent, odorless, colorless, waterproof and consists of "saturated hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum", says Dr. Billy Bourke, professor of medicine at University College Dublin. Paraffin oil is also used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries.
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Paraffin oil, or paraffin, is commonly called kerosene in the United States, and is mostly used for fuel. In 1859, Edwin Drake drilled the first producing oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In 1870, John Rockefeller entered the oil refining business when he formed Standard Oil. Rockefeller aimed to produce kerosene for lighting and heating. Petroleum boomed in countries throughout Central and South America and the Middle East from 1908 to 1959.
Physical and Chemical Properties
Paraffin melts between 116 and 149 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not soluble in water, so a chemical like ether, benzene or certain esters must be used to remove paraffin from surfaces, says the CCBOL Group. Paraffin is usually found in a solid, wax form. It is usually white in color and does not contain any taste or odor.
Paraffin is used to make candles; coat hard cheeses; as a moisture repellent for fertilizers; for preparing specimens; to seal jars and cans; as glide wax on surfboards, skis and snowboards; fuel; lubricant; and on foods to make them appear shiny. Nearly everyone uses paraffin every day in some way.
Paraffin wax, the solid form of the oil, is used in many salons for the treatment of the hands and feet. Paraffin retains heat longer than most materials, so by dipping your hands and feet in the wax, you not only moisturize the outer layer of your skin, but also provide a deep heat treatment to your joints and muscles. Paraffin oil is used in lotions and creams for the body as an emollient, which helps seal moisture into the skin.
Paraffin wax is used in crayons and as a thickening agent in paint balls. Paraffin oil is often given to children as a laxative. It is gentle on the body because it doesn't break down inside the child, nor is it associated with abdominal cramps, diarrhea, flatulence or electrolyte disturbances, like many laxatives, according to an article published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Protection, Handling and Storage
Paraffin oil should be stored in a tightly-closed container and kept in a dry, well-ventilated storage room. It is very important to keep the container of paraffin oil away from any flammable substance or any source of heat or ignition. Harmful residue may remain in the container after removing the paraffin oil. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet from J.T. Baker, it is important to properly dispose of the empty container after using the oil.
Paraffin oil is harmful if swallowed or inhaled. It can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, inhaling paraffin oil mist or vapor can result in aspiration pneumonia. Ingesting paraffin oil can lead to nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. Leaving paraffin oil on the skin for long periods of time may lead to dermatitis, and people with a pre-existing skin condition are at a higher risk for skin irritation.