What Is Vaseline?
Vaseline, also known as petroleum jelly, has been a staple in most of our medicine or bathroom cabinets since we can remember. We can probably all recall slathering the stuff on anything from scrapes to dry lips.
There is a good reason why so many of us have used petroleum jelly to soothe our skin over the years, it works. Petroleum jelly is designed to form a protective barrier on the surface of the skin, protecting the skin from water loss.
Over the last few years, along with the rise of ‘natural beauty’, petroleum has received an arguably undeserved reputation due to it being derived from crude oil. With many arguing that due to its origin it is unsafe and cancer-causing. This isn’t necessarily the truth, more on this later.
Petroleum jelly can be used to help accelerate wound healing, protect against moisture loss in the skin and is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology for soothing eczema.
the good: Petroleum jelly is great for protecting the skin and preventing water loss. It also has applications in helping to support wound healing and soothing eczema.
the not so good:Petroleum jelly has a somewhat undeserved reputation for its origin.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it. It may also be best for congestive skin types to avoid using this product or products containing this ingredient.
Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients
Keep an eye on: Keep an eye out for the many products this ingredient is used in.
What Are the Benefits Of Petroleum Jelly?
Petroleum jelly is often used to help prevent moisture loss from the skin, also known as transepidermal water loss or TEWL. TEWL occurs when the skin’s natural barrier is unable to adequately trap water in the skin and it is lost to the surrounding air. This can happen if we live in a dry climate, in airconditioned or heated buildings, due to skin conditions with disrupted skin barriers such as eczema, dermatitis or even just as part of the aging process.
As petroleum jelly is occlusive, which means that it coats the skin and forms a protective barrier on the surface of the skin to trap moisture in and prevent water being lost to the air it helps to keep the skin hydrated.
The skin barrier is an important part of the skin’s health. The skin barrier is made up of the top few layers of skin, oils, ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids. Using harsh products such as some acids, non-pH balanced cleansers, diet, and some skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis have been linked with the disruption of the skin barrier.
It can be hard to know, particularly with the skin conditions, which comes first, however, maintaining a healthy skin barrier is important to keep the appearance of the skin looking hydrated and healthy.
A few studies have looked at the ability of petroleum jelly to assist in wound healing. The studies suggest that the same protective barrier that is formed to prevent moisture loss may help accelerate the healing process.
This may be due to the fact that it acts as a temporary scab, reducing the energy from the body required to heal. These studies have also suggested that petroleum jelly may reduce the likelihood of scarring when used during wound healing.
This is part of the movement away from entirely dry-wound healing, think about how you used to hear that letting a wound dry out was the best thing to do for it to heal. That isn’t always true, often wet-wound healing is good for smaller, non-weeping wounds.
Eczema is a complicated skin condition that can be triggered by diet, climate, inflammation, allergy and the use of harsh products. However, as the American Academy of Dermatology recommends, petroleum jelly can be used to soothe the irritation associated with eczema.
Who Shouldn’t Use Petroleum Jelly?
Generally, most skin types will benefit from petroleum jelly at some point in time, however, due to its occlusive nature it may not be for everyone.
Petroleum jelly is an occlusive ingredient which means that it creates a protective barrier on the surface of the skin, preventing moisture loss. This may mean that for some congested skin types such as those who are prone to blackheads, breakouts and clogging, it may be an ingredient to minimise or avoid prolonged use.
In terms of acne or breakouts, petroleum jelly may be of some benefit to the skin. This is because the cause of acne is not always clogging of the pore and often is inflammation which can be exacerbated by dryness. People with irritated, dry skin with breakouts may find it useful. Always talk to your doctor or dermatologist to determine if it’s right for your skin type.
What Are The Controversies Surrounding Petroleum Jelly?
Derived from Crude Oil
Petroleum jelly, as the name suggests, is derived from crude oil. While this may seem scary, petroleum-based products are a little misunderstood. Crude oil is formed by algae and sea animals that get buried under the weight of the ocean and ocean floor. The pressure breaks down the carbons in the once-living creatures into crude oil. Crude oil is mainly made up of hydrogen and carbon and gets separated out into its usable parts once extracted such as gasoline, mineral oil, asphalt and paraffin. The separation and purification process is highly regulated to produce pure mineral oil which is used to make petroleum jelly.
One of the other misconceptions around petroleum jelly relates to online rumors that it can cause cancer. While it is true that crude oil contains a number of carcinogenic or cancer-linked compounds, extreme care and regulation mean that all the compounds that are linked with increasing your risk of cancer are removed from the petroleum jelly.
Is Petroleum Jelly Safe?
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group responsible for evaluating the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients has reviewed the available data on petroleum-based products. Based on this data they determined that petroleum jelly is safe for its indicated uses. It also found it to be not irritating to the skin. The only issue with petroleum jelly is that it shouldn’t be used under or in the nose for long periods of time in case small droplets are inhaled. This would be a safety indication for most balms or heavy oils as well.
Ghadially, R, Halkier-Sorensen & Elias, P, 1992. ‘Effects of petrolatum on stratum corneum structure and function’, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 26, is. 3, pp. 387-396.
Sethi, A, Kaur, T, Malhotra, S, & Gambhir, M, 2016. ‘Moisturizers: The Slippery Road’, Indian Journal of Dermatology, vol. 61, is. 3, pp. 279–287.
Hamishehkar, H, Same, S, Adibkia, K, Zarza, K, Shokri, J, Taghaee, M, & Kouhsoltani, M, 2015. ‘A comparative histological study on the skin occlusion performance of a cream made of solid lipid nanoparticles and Vaseline’, Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences, vol. 10, is. 5, pp. 378–387.