Liquid paraffin, also known as mineral oil, has a variety of uses. There is medicinal-quality liquid paraffin and industrial liquid paraffin. Liquid paraffin is closely related to kerosene, which is a fuel, so the two should not be mixed. Liquid paraffin can be a useful product, but care should always be taken.
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Liquid paraffin is a mixture of hydrocarbons. It is obtained through the petroleum distillation process. It is the clear, light fraction of the distillation process and it can be further purified. It is also known as adepsine oil, glymol, saxol and Vaseline oil.
Liquid paraffin is an oily, transparent, colorless liquid. At room temperature it is odorless and tasteless. However, when heated it does have a slightly unpleasant petroleum smell. It does not dissolve in water, glycerol or cold ethanol. It does dissolve in benzene, ether, chloroform and hot ethanol. It has a density of 0.8 gm/cm3.
Liquid paraffin, as mineral oil, is commonly used to treat constipation. The advantage is that it acts as a stool lubricant and decreases the amount of water removed from stool, and the oil itself is not absorbed into the gastrointestinal system. However, it should only be used under a doctor’s supervision, as overuse can lead to deficiencies in vitamins E, D, A and K. Liquid paraffin can be used to help treat cradle cap in infants. Cradle cap is a condition resulting in dry scaly skin, most commonly found on the head. When shampooing is not effective in removing the scaly skin, apply liquid paraffin to the scalp area and then wrap in warm cloths. Liquid paraffin can also be used to ease inflammation due to diaper rash or irritation due to eczema, and to soften hardened ear wax.
Liquid paraffin can be used as a non-conductive coolant in electrical systems, such as in transformers. It can also be used as a hydraulic fluid in various types of machinery. It can be used as a lubricant and was commonly used in the textiles industry, but has been replaced with other types of oils since it does not biodegrade as easily. For those who work with abrasive materials, such as cements, tars and industrial paints, liquid paraffin can be used to clean hands. Solvents such as turpentine should be avoided as they are irritating to the skin, but liquid paraffin will not irritate the skin.
Liquid paraffin has the ability to cause a condition known as hydrocarbon pneumonitis, which results when the substance is aspirated into the lungs. This is most commonly seen in fire-eating performers. They use liquid paraffin to coat their mouths, but when inhaled the compound spreads quickly through the bronchial tree, activating macrophages (cells of the immune system) and therefore causing inflammation. So although there are medicinal purposes for liquid paraffin, it can still be dangerous if misused.