Oil Bath: Is crude oil toxic?

I’ve seen movies where they strike oil and the dude sticks his hand on the geyser of oil and whoops it up – and movies where as a joke, someone falls in an oil barrel and looks all tar-like. (ha ha.)

But is crude oil – unprocessed – actually toxic? Or is it just dead dinosaur liquid? And if it’s non-toxic, could (say a Texan) swim in it, for fun?

Hydrocarbons are toxic in large doses. Some of them are even narcotic (I don’t know if I’m using the word correctly). The smaller ones absorb through your skin. Crude oil probably has benzene in it.

A one time large exposure is probably not much to worry about as long as you clean up right away. Swimming in it is out of the question.

No immediate damage to touching it if that’s what your asking. Swimming in it could be a bit unhealthy. It is poisonous if absorbed into the body.

It can’t be good for you. Crude oil has various components, including various ‘weights’ (aka ‘fractions’?) of hydrocarbons, some pretty definitely pretty poisonous - some gasoline and kerosene-like. Does that mean it’s really bad? I can’t define that, and anyhow, I don’t know. If it was up to me, though, I’d say we should quit showering in it ASAP and start bottling it - or something.

I ain’t a chemist.

I ask in part because in the movie “Wages of Fear” (1953, France), the dudes are literally swimming in it. Later workers are playing in it.

Typical composition of crude oil from Wikipedia:

Hydrocarbon 	Average 	Range
Paraffins 	30% 	15 to 60%
Naphthenes 	49% 	30 to 60%
Aromatics 	15% 	3 to 30%
Asphaltics 	6% 	remainder

Aromatics includes such things as benzene, which we were warned against washing our hands in during first semester organic lab. The TA muttered something about cancer, but no one really paid much attention to him.
At very best, immersion in crude will dry the heck out of your skin.
Beyond that, it’s not good for you but just how bad it is depends on the exact composition, which as you can see from the table, varies a lot.

Crude oil is generally regarded only as moderately irritating to the skin; however, it can contain significant amounts of benzene, toluene, xylene, and their derivatives, which are quite toxic and can cause cancer. There is also hydrogen sulfide, which is also toxic.

According to the MSDS for Crude Oil (Sweet):


So yeah, touching it briefly may irritate the skin a little. No big deal. Other exposure sounds like something you may want to avoid.