Paraffin is a byproduct of crude oil distillation, and can appear in different forms and grades ranging from a soft waxy solid to a clear oil. It's used in some skincare and skin-treatment products as a moisturising, preserving and/or stabilising ingredient. Paraffin's safety is debated, but can pose certain health hazards, especially if inhaled or ingested and also from repeated or prolonged skin exposure. We prefer to leave it out of our products.
Paraffin is sometimes referred to by the name ‘Mineral Oil’, which is a general term used to describe any similar oils derived from crude oil. It's produced as a byproduct during the refinining process of turning crude oil into other forms, such as lubricating oils. This oil is typically comprised of saturated long-chain hydrocarbons, and has many applications including candles, wood, paper, packaging and food products, cosmetics, crayons, home-care products, pharmaceuticals, polishes and more.
In its highly refined liquid form, paraffin is known to be effective in treating and relieving some skin conditions, however there is some discourse around the benefits and safety of using this ingredient on the skin. The presence of probable carcinogens such as 1,4-dioxane is discussed, however any such impurities are expected to be removed during the refinement and safety tests prior to inclusion in cosmetics. A review by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel in 2012 concluded that isoparaffins in cosmetics are “safe in the present practices of use and concentration described in this safety assessment.” A 2020 handbook Industrial Hydrocarbon Processes noted that “prolonged skin exposure to this oil can cause skin irritation, which can lead to contact dermatitis, especially in individuals who already have skin disorders or diseases.”
Paraffin is derived from crude oil, a non-renewable resource that contributes to environmental damage. Pollution is associated with virtually all activities throughout all stages of oil and gas production, from exploratory activities to refining, wastewaters, gas emissions, solid waste and aerosols generated during drilling, production, refining and transportation. A 2018 article highlighted the damage caused to the marine environment from practices associated with transporting paraffin waxes in shipping containers. Currently there are few restrictions on vessels discharging the residual paraffin and wastewater from washing the transportation tanks into the open ocean. With regular discharge of paraffin into the ocean, this is estimated to take years to break down and has been reported in the stomach contents of sea birds and sea turtles in different coasts. Further research is yet required to determine the full impact on the marine environment.
Other names: Paraffin Wax, Paraffin Oil; Petroleum Wax, Crystalline
Chemical class: Hydrocarbons, Waxes
Johnson, W., Jr, Bergfeld, W. F., Belsito, D. V., Hill, R. A., Klaassen, C. D., Liebler, D., Marks, J. G., Jr, Shank, R. C., Slaga, T. J., Snyder, P. W., & Andersen, F. A. (2012). Safety assessment of isoparaffins as used in cosmetics. International journal of toxicology, 31(6 Suppl), 269S–95S. https://doi.org/10.1177/1091581812463087
James G. Speight. Chapter 13 - Pharmaceuticals, Editor(s): James G. Speight, Handbook of Industrial Hydrocarbon Processes (Second Edition). Gulf Professional Publishing, 2020, Pages 553-595, ISBN 9780128099230, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809923-0.00013-8.
Suaria Giuseppe, Aliani Stefano, Merlino Silvia, Abbate Marinella. (2018). The Occurrence of Paraffin and Other Petroleum Waxes in the Marine Environment: A Review of the Current Legislative Framework and Shipping Operational Practices. Frontiers in Marine Science, Volume 5, DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00094, ISSN: 2296-7745, https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmars.2018.00094
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