If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.
Petroleum jelly is a thick, waxy paste that many people use as a skin care product and treatment for minor cuts and burns. Other names for petroleum jelly include petrolatum and Vaseline, a common brand name.
People use petroleum jelly for diaper rash, as a moisturizer, to treat skin conditions such as eczema, and as a lubricant.
In this article, learn about the uses and benefits of petroleum jelly, as well as the possible risks and side effects.
Chemists derive petroleum jelly from oil. Following its accidental discovery during the oil-drilling process, it has now been around for more than 100 years.
Refined petroleum jelly is a mineral oil that many companies market as a general-purpose skin treatment.
The purity of petroleum jelly depends on the manufacturing process. Unrefined petroleum jelly may contain harmful ingredients, but refined petroleum jelly is usually safe.
It is essential to read the ingredients label and contact the manufacturer with any questions about the refining and purification process.
Companies once marketed petroleum jelly as a miracle cure for everything from wrinkles to burns. While it cannot heal every skin condition, it is a versatile and affordable skin care option.
The benefits of petroleum jelly include:
1. Acting as a skin barrier
The skin does not easily absorb petroleum jelly. This means that it is not really a moisturizer, but a barrier that can keep dirt out and prevent moisture loss.
People can try applying it to irritated skin before spending time outside in cold, dry, windy air. People with a cold may apply it under their nose to prevent irritation due to a runny nose or frequent nose-wiping.
2. Preventing chafing
Chafing, which occurs when skin rubs against another body part or clothing, can be very irritating. This is especially so for people with eczema or dry skin.
Some people develop rashes or broken skin due to chafing. Applying petroleum jelly to areas prone to chafing may help prevent it.
3. Treating diaper rash
Many babies develop diaper rash after sitting in wet diapers. Petroleum jelly creates a moisture barrier that can reduce the risk of diaper rash.
It can also soothe the skin and provide relief from existing diaper rashes.
4. Supporting healing
However, one 2018 study disputes this claim. The researchers found that petroleum jelly could actually prevent the skin from performing its natural protective film, slowing healing and increasing the risk of infection.
5. Preventing peeling
Peeling skin can be irritating. When skin is so dry that it peels, petroleum jelly can soothe the irritation and help skin heal.
People can try applying it to dry, chapped lips or irritated eyelids during cold weather seasons.
6. Managing eczema
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes irritation, itching, and scaly patches.
A 2017 study suggested that petroleum jelly might prevent eczema outbreaks. The study found that frequently moisturizing the skin of newborns at high risk of eczema could prevent outbreaks.
Petroleum jelly, according to the study, was particularly effective and more affordable than other options.
Purified forms of petroleum jelly do not contain dangerous ingredients. Vaseline is one of the most popular commercial forms of petroleum jelly, and according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it has a low risk of exposing users to carcinogens and other dangerous ingredients.
Unrefined petroleum jelly does contain some potentially dangerous contaminants. The EWG suggest that a group of carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons could cause cancer and damage the reproductive organs.
People interested in trying petroleum jelly should buy it from a reputable source. Homemade products that contain petroleum jelly and products made by unknown manufacturers may contain harmful components.
It is also worth noting that petroleum jelly may make some skin conditions worse. The skin naturally forms a protective film after an injury, which helps prevent further damage and infection. Petroleum jelly interferes with the formation of this film.
While vaseline can be used as lubricant if there are no better options, it is not recommended. As an oil based lubricant it interferes with the latex in condoms, making them more likely to break or be less effective.
Petroleum jelly can also be difficult to clean or wash away after sex in comparison to water-based lubricants. This increases the likelihood of developing a bacterial infection.
Petroleum jelly may also clog pores. While some forms promise not to clog the pores, it forms a barrier that may cause skin breakouts, especially with frequent use. People with acne or sensitive skin should avoid using petroleum jelly on acne-prone areas, such as the face.
It is flammable, so people should avoid using it near fires, when smoking, or near other open flames. Store it in a cool, dry environment.
Petroleum jelly may also irritate the lungs, especially in large quantities. Very rarely, this irritation can cause pneumonia.
While some people use petroleum jelly to ease chapped, dry nostrils, doing so could potentially cause breathing difficulties. Use it on the skin, not inside the body. Anyone who has a respiratory condition such as asthma should speak to a doctor before using petroleum jelly near the nose or mouth.
Petroleum jelly is an affordable, multipurpose skin care product. As long as a person chooses a safe and refined form of this waxy substance, it is unlikely to cause skin problems.
However, petroleum jelly is not a substitute for other skin care choices, including a quality moisturizer. It may even make some skin conditions worse by slowing healing time.
People concerned about skin issues or interested in weighing the benefits and risks of petroleum jelly should speak to a dermatologist.
Petroleum jelly is available in grocery stores, drug stores, and online.