🤔Petroleum jelly: good now as ever?

Jun. 17, 2020
Petroleum jelly – commonly known as the all-mighty Vaseline. What is it, where did it come from, and what does science have to say about its usefulness in skincare today?
Do you remember your parents slapping a thick, gooey ointment onto your skin during the harsh winter months when you were a kid? If so, you probably had petroleum jelly put on you as a kid. First discovered in 1859 on Pennsylvanian oil rigs, it has since evolved into a household medicinal chest staple around the globe. It’s used to protect dry skin, but also used by many to treat toenail fungus, nosebleeds and chest colds. So what is petroleum jelly and what are its actual, scientifically verified uses? Read on to find out!
❓What is petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly, also called petrolatum, is pale, translucent, semisolid jelly that’s distilled and refined from petroleum. It’s a purified mix of natural paraffinic oils and heavy waxes.
✅Uses and benefits of petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly is very versatile, and miraculously, the stuff we put on our skin these days really hasn’t changed much since its discovery by Robert Augustus Chesebrough in 1859. In fact, oil rig workers back then applied the unrefined version of petroleum jelly – “rod wax” as they called it – to treat cuts and burns.
And right they were – sort of, anyway. While I really wouldn’t advocate the use of unrefined petroleum jelly (see ‘Side effects’ below), refined petroleum jelly has been shown in a 2013 study as aiding the process of post-op skin healing by keeping skin moist. It’s recommended for treating small wounds and burns, but make sure to apply it on cleaned and disinfected skin so that you don’t trap bacteria into the wound itself.
Petroleum jelly is also an effective occlusive moisturizer so it can prevent your skin from drying out. Use it on chapped lips like normal lip balm. Or use it to treat cracked heels or gardening hands. Simply put on some petroleum jelly and a clean pair of socks or gloves to lock in the moisture. You can also try it on your hair to save split ends and add a bit of shine. Next time you’re at the beach, towel down and rub a small amount of petroleum jelly between your palms and onto your hair.
Because petroleum is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, it’s also able to dissolve certain ingredients which are insoluble in water, for example, eye makeup. As such, you can use a cotton bud with some petroleum jelly to remove eye liner in hard to reach areas, or even on crow’s feet lines. The same works for preventing skin stains from hair dye or nail polish – just apply some to your hairline or to the skin bordering your nails, and once you’re done, the barrier of petroleum jelly makes it infinitely easier to wipe away any stains.
Lastly, here’s one you might want to remember if you have kids or plan to have kids in the future: petroleum jelly prevents diaper rash! A randomized clinical trial performed in 2013 showed that the protective layer formed by petroleum jelly on babies’ backsides can prevent diaper rash by preventing the skin from constant exposure to moisture.
⚠️Side effects
Before we discuss the potential side effects of petroleum jelly, it’s important to acknowledge that not all products are made equal. When choosing a petroleum jelly, make sure you go for refined versions, like the old name brand Vaseline, which is triple-distilled and has high quality standards in place to make sure there are no polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a carcinogenic contaminant found in unrefined petroleum-based products.
Now we’ve got that fact out of the way, rest assured that refined petroleum jelly is one of the safest products for the skin – it works on almost any skin type and very rarely irritates or causes allergies. Because petroleum jelly is so good at sealing your skin from the outside world, it’s important to make sure you apply it to clean and dry skin only to avoid bacterial or fungal infections.
It’s important to note that petroleum jelly is intended only for external use – i.e. by all means do not eat it (it’s not that type of jelly) or use this product internally. A study of 141 women found that 40% of women who used petroleum jelly internally tested positive for bacterial vaginosis.
Another thing to watch out for is use of petroleum jelly around the nose. Occasional use is fine, but long term use could cause infection due to the inhalation of fats. Do consult your doctor before you use petroleum jelly around the nose area if you need to use it that way. 
It’s amazing that something discovered over 160 years ago continues to be in popular use today. Next time you buy petroleum jelly, make sure you look for USP (in the States), BP (in the UK) or Ph. Eur (in Europe) to make sure that the product you’ve picked up meets purity standards.
Is petroleum jelly something you can’t do without? Share with us below!
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