The Role of Liquid Paraffin in Skin Care
Finding liquid paraffin listed as one of the ingredients in a cream or lotion can be confusing for some consumers. After all, paraffin is a term that’s commonly associated with candles, which don’t really have anything to do with skin care. But a deeper look at liquid paraffin will reveal that this common personal care ingredient is used in many skin products, including creams, lotions, lip balm, soap, and even eczema ointments. But what does liquid paraffin do, and more importantly, is it safe to use on the skin? To better understand this ingredient, let’s take a deeper look at its role in skin care and the possible side effects it can induce.
What is Liquid Paraffin?
Liquid paraffin is a petroleum derivative that is also commonly referred to as “mineral oil.” There are many types of chemicals that are classified under the mineral oil label, and are used in a variety of applications, including manufacturing.
However, liquid paraffin is a term reserved for highly-refined mineral oil that is suitable for skin care product applications and even for oral ingestion. This is an important distinction, because some skin care experts who express concern about liquid paraffin may be inadvertently referring to non-medical-grade mineral oil, which has not been properly purified for use in skin products.
How is Liquid Paraffin Used?
There are many uses for liquid paraffin, and this chemical is included in many skin care product formulations, and even in products taken orally. For example, this ingredient is sometimes formulated into certain laxative products.
When it comes to skin care, liquid paraffin is often included in cream formulations because it is believed to help the skin retain moisture. Moisture retention is an important factor in skin care, which is often overlooked. The skin has a natural barrier that prevents moisture loss and helps keep the skin supple. Some individuals, however, experience a weakening of this barrier due to genetic factors, aging of the skin, and damage from UV radiation and harsh weather.
Therefore, liquid paraffin is sometimes formulated into skin care products to create a protective layer on the skin that helps retain hydration. Commonly, it creates a somewhat greasy, but smooth feeling on the skin, giving the consumer a sensation of moisture.
Because of these presumed moisturizing properties, this ingredient oil is also a common addition to eczema creams. Eczema is believed to flare up due to lack of moisture, and by fortifying the natural moisture barrier, liquid paraffin may be able to reduce symptoms of this skin condition.
But the big question is; does a cream that creates a feeling of moisture because of liquid paraffin actually moisturize the skin? And also; if this ingredient is so good for the skin, why do some eczema sufferers seem to experience an exacerbation of symptoms when using creams with this chemical?
Possible Dangers of Liquid Paraffin
One of the criticisms of liquid paraffin is that it doesn’t actually moisturize the skin. It’s certainly important to reinforce the skin’s natural moisture barrier, but many skin care experts suggest that the feeling of moisture isn’t real. After someone uses a cream with liquid paraffin, the soft, silky sensation on the skin is that of mineral oil on the surface, and not of the actual skin texture. The skin is simply covered with something that feels soft! Therefore, some argue that the moisturizing effects of liquid paraffin are simply a sensory illusion!
For example, another way to achieve a sensation of soft skin is to grab a little bit of baking soda, mix it with water to create a paste, and then rub the hands together with the rough particles scrubbing against the skin. After the paste is washed off, the hands will feel incredibly soft to the touch. After a few hours, however, this sensation fades. The reason behind this is the temporary sensation created at the tips of the fingers by the rubbing of rough particles – everything else starts to feel comparatively soft! But just because the skin feels softer, that doesn’t mean it actually IS softer. The same argument can be made for liquid paraffin.
The bigger danger, however, is that liquid paraffin may cause breakouts in some individuals. For example, some skin experts suggest that this ingredient can clog pores and promote the development of comedonal acne. Although the research on this topic is still inconclusive, individuals with a history of severe acne may want to avoid products with liquid paraffin, as a safety precaution.
Products with Liquid Paraffin
There are many products on the market that contain liquid paraffin, including diaper cream, foot moisturizer, and cosmetics, among others. Because of the widespread use of this chemical, those concerned with possible side effects should carefully inspect product labels of all skin care products before purchase, and to look for the alternate name “mineral oil” as well. To avoid serious side effects from liquid paraffin, it’s a good idea to discuss this ingredient in detail with a dermatologist.