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Everything You Need to Know About Petroleum Jelly

What is petroleum jelly made of?

petroleum jelly
Vintage mascara
Vaseline and coal were the first ingredients for modern mascara. The chemist who created this did so for his sister Mabel. He then went on to create the makeup company Maybelline.

Petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum) is a mixture of mineral oils and waxes, which form a semisolid jelly-like substance. This product hasn’t changed much since Robert Augustus Chesebrough discovered it in 1859. Chesebrough noticed that oil workers would use a gooey jelly to heal their wounds and burns. He eventually packaged this jelly as Vaseline.

Petroleum jelly’s benefits come from its main ingredient petroleum, which helps seal your skin with a water-protective barrier. This helps your skin heal and retain moisture. Read on to learn what else you can use petroleum jelly for.

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Uses

Benefits and uses for petroleum jelly

1. Heal minor skin scrapes and burns

A study shows that petroleum jelly is effective in keeping skin moist during post-surgery healing. This may be particularly good for regular, less dramatic skin injuries. Make sure that the surface you apply petroleum jelly on is properly cleaned and disinfected. Otherwise, bacteria and other pathogens can get trapped inside and delay the healing process.

2. Moisturize your face, hands, and more

Face and body lotion: Apply petroleum jelly after a shower. As an occlusive moisturizer, it prevents your skin from drying out. You can also use it for dry noses during cold or allergy season.

Cracked heels: Soak your feet in warm water with some salt added to it. Towel-dry thoroughly and apply petroleum jelly and clean cotton socks.

Improve your gardening hands: After washing and drying, use some petroleum jelly and a clean pair of gloves to help lock in moisture and accelerate healing.

Chapped lips: Apply to chapped lips as you would any chapstick.

3. Help for pet paws

Your dog’s pad skin can crack and produce a great deal of discomfort. Clean their paws with cotton gauze, dry, and apply the jelly. Ideally this should be done after a walk or when your pet is resting.

Read more: Choosing a healthy facial moisturizer »

4. Prevent diaper rash

Petroleum jelly has been shown to reduce the incidence of diaper rash in babies. Clean and towel-dry your little one’s skin properly before applying. Petroleum jelly will form a protective barrier that will help protect the skin from constant exposure to moisture. Make an appointment with the doctor if there is a persistent rash.

5. Remove eye makeup

Oil is an effective way to remove makeup, and petroleum jelly is safe to use in the eye area, according to a study on eye ultrasounds. Use a cotton pad or Q-tip (for hard to reach areas), and press gently without tugging too hard on your skin. Make sure to close your eyes as you wipe. Some people also swear by using it on crow’s feet lines.

6. Save split ends

Sun and wind exposure as well as pool water can dry up your hair. Petroleum jelly can reduce the look of split ends and add shine to your hair. Rub a small amount of jelly between your palms and apply to hair ends.

7. Prevent skin stains from hair dye or nail polish

Apply petroleum jelly along your hairline to prevent hair dye from staining your skin. This also works if you like to paint your nails at home. A barrier of petroleum jelly is easy to wipe away when you’re done.

8. Preserve perfume scents

Using petroleum jelly as a base for your perfume can help it last longer.

9. Use as lube for stuck objects

If a ring is stuck on your finger, put some jelly on your finger, making sure you get some around and under the ring. This will help the ring slip off your finger.

For door hinges, apply a bit of jelly right on the hinge and swing the door a few times to spread evenly. Wipe off the excess.

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Side effects

Dangers of petroleum jelly

While petroleum jelly has many benefits, it should be for external use only. Do not eat or insert petroleum jelly. Avoid using petroleum jelly for masturbation or as a vaginal lubricant. According to Reuters, a study of 141 women found that 17 percent used petroleum jelly internally and 40 percent of them tested positive for bacterial vaginosis.

The brand and type of jelly you purchase may cause different reactions. These include:

Potential side effects
  • Allergies: Some people are more sensitive and can develop allergies if they use petroleum-derived products. Always keep an eye out for irritations and adverse reactions when using a new product.
  • Infections: Not allowing the skin to dry or cleaning the skin properly before applying petroleum jelly can cause fungal or bacterial infections. A contaminated jar can also spread bacteria if you insert jelly vaginally.
  • Aspiration risks: Check with your doctor before using petroleum jelly around the nose area, especially in children. Inhaling mineral oils may cause aspiration pneumonia.
  • Clogged pores: Some people may break out when using petroleum jelly. Make sure you clean the skin properly before you apply the jelly to reduce the risk of breakouts.
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Q&A: Differences

Petroleum jelly vs. Vaseline

  • What’s the difference between petroleum jelly and Vaseline?
  • Vaseline is the original, name brand for petroleum jelly. Theoretically, there is no difference between the name brand and generic brands. However, Unilever, the company that makes Vaseline, claims that they only use the highest quality ingredients and a special purification and filtration process. There may be small variations in consistency, smoothness, or even fragrance with Vaseline and generic brands. However, there does not appear to be a difference in safety between products. The best advice is to read the label. It should be simply 100 percent petroleum jelly.

    - Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
  • Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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Takeaway

The bottom line

Petroleum jelly has been a staple in the medical and beauty industry for a long time due to its emollient properties, ability to help with skin healing, and also due to its safe record. Be sure to choose triple-distilled, purified product (the well-known old timer Vaseline is one of them) in order to avoid putting any toxic contaminants on your skin, some of which are potentially carcinogenic.

As with any other product you use on your skin, monitor initial uses for signs of allergy or rashes. You may also want to opt for products that are plant-derived instead of the oil-based petroleum jelly, if you are concerned about the impact on the environment.

Keep reading: Harmful toxins in cosmetics »

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