Looking for ways to soothe an irritated nose after snorting cocaine? You probably already have one solution in your medicine cabinet: Vaseline, also known as petroleum jelly.

Petroleum jelly is a dermatologist favorite for protecting skin and locking in moisture. It’s also free from added ingredients that can cause irritation. When using it on your nose, you want to be sure you apply it correctly.

Here’s a look at how to apply petroleum jelly to your nose, other techniques you can try for relief, and why cocaine irritates your nose in the first place.

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Put a small amount of petroleum jelly on your finger and apply a thin layer around the edge of your nostril. You can also apply a small amount just inside your nose, but avoid going any deeper.

When inhaled, petroleum jelly may lead to something called lipid pneumonia. It’s not clear how common this is, but applying it only to the edge of your nose should avoid this risk.

A note on timing, though: You’ll want to avoid applying petroleum jelly right before snorting anything. The powder will get stuck and become unusable.

Vitamin E is another commonly recommended item, but it might not do much.

As a thick oil, vitamin E can help to protect nasal mucosa and lock in moisture, but research is shaky on whether it’s effective for irritated skin or wounds.

The chemical nature of vitamin E also means that it’s easily broken down when exposed to light and air, so it becomes less and less useful as it sits on the shelf.

That said, it shouldn’t cause any problems, so it might be worth trying if you don’t have petroleum jelly on hand. Apply vitamin E the same way you would apply petroleum jelly, being sure to not apply it beyond the edges of your nostril or just inside it.

In addition to applying petroleum jelly to the edge of your nostril, there are a few other things you can do to soothe your nose and prevent irritation.

Use a saline rinse

When you snort cocaine, it sits on your nasal mucosa for several minutes, so doing a simple rinse can go a long way.

You can pick up saline nasal rinses at any drug or grocery store. They’re usually called saline nasal rinse, saline nasal mist, saline nasal spray, or saline nasal irrigation.

Avoid sprays that have other ingredients besides saline (like Afrin or Nasacort).

After snorting, use a few pumps of the saline rinse to wash the lingering cocaine off your nasal mucosa.

Keep a tissue handy to pat the skin around your nose dry — wet skin is more likely to get irritated. Follow up with some petroleum jelly for added protection.

Going through this process of rinsing, drying, and applying petroleum jelly after snorting cocaine (or any other drug) will go a long way toward keeping your nose in good shape.

Alternate nostrils

If you’re able, alternate your nostrils each time you snort. This gives each side as much time as possible to heal and rest.

Cocaine causes abrasion as it’s pulled through the lining of your nose, and, if you’re using something with rough edges to snort, it can also cause abrasion (more on this in a moment).

Give your nostrils as much down time as you can.

Don’t share snorting tools

An infection that settles into a wound or area of irritated nasal mucosa can take some time to heal, resulting in ongoing discomfort and pain in your nose.

To avoid infection, practice basic hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling drugs.

Most importantly, use clean, unshared snorting tools. Certain bacteria, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), love to live in the nose and can be easily spread by sharing tools.

It’s also possible for bloodborne viruses, like hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV, to pass from person to person if a tool is contaminated with blood and another person has an open wound or area of irritation in their nose.

If straws are your preferred tool, purchase plastic drinking straws and cut them into sections using disinfected scissors.

If you tend to use rolled up cash, consider making a switch. Cash tends to be dirty and hard to disinfect.

You can also try using disposable cosmetic spatulas, which are easy to find and purchase in bulk online. These can be used once and discarded.

Give the snorting surface a wipe down

As added protection against infection, make sure you’re snorting off a clean surface.

Before pouring out cocaine to make lines, clean the surface with a disinfecting spray and wipe it down. Make sure you let the surface dry before putting anything on it — this is when most of the disinfecting magic happens.

If you’re looking for ways to take care of your nose, it’s helpful to understand why cocaine causes irritation.

The lining inside the nose is thin and delicate

What lines the inside of your nose isn’t the same tough, dry skin that covers the rest of your body.

Your nose isn’t filled with skin, but rather with nasal mucosa, which is a different kind of tissue. The part closest to your nostrils is the thickest, but as you move back toward your throat, it gets thinner and more delicate.

This is why some people experience nosebleeds after snorting drugs.

Cocaine is often acidic

There’s a difference between the chemical properties of a drug made in a sterile lab and those of a sample of a drug purchased from a drug seller.

While reference materials typically list cocaine as having a fairly neutral pH, samples taken from drug sellers often test as acidic. This is probably due to how the cocaine was made and potential contaminants that were mixed in during the process.

A 2015 study looked at the pH of several samples of cocaine in Philadelphia and found that the average pH was 3.5, making it about as acidic as orange juice.

Acids irritate you nasal mucous, and disrupt its ability to keep foreign particles from entering your body

Snorting can rough up the inside of the nose

Snorting can be done in a few different ways, but it often involves inserting something into the nostril, like a dollar bill or a cut piece of drinking straw.

Also, the act of sucking the powder into your nose means pulling small crystals across your nasal mucosa. This alone can be irritating to the delicate lining of the nose all by itself, since the edges of those crystals are rough.

Cocaine slows down blood flow

Cocaine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it makes blood vessels tighten and narrow. Tighter blood vessels mean less blood flow. Imagine a garden hose suddenly gets a lot narrower. The water would have a harder time coming out.

Why does this matter? Well, your body’s tissues need plenty of blood flow to heal. Blood brings oxygen to feed cells and the building blocks to repair wounds. When you snort cocaine, you reduce the amount of blood flow to your nasal lining.

If the lining then gets damaged or irritated, the reduced blood flow makes the healing process lengthier and a little more difficult.

You don’t always know what you’re snorting

You’ve probably heard about the opioid overdose epidemic. The main contributor is unpredictable contamination of the drug supply with substances people aren’t aware of, including fentanyl, a powerful opioid, and etizolam, a benzodiazepine that slows breathing and causes sedation.

This issue with contamination applies to cocaine, too. This is important for two reasons: It exposes people to a greater risk of overdose, and it means there could be substances in the cocaine that make it extra irritating to your nose.

Speaking of contamination, there are things you can do to protect yourself and others from experiencing an overdose or drug poisoning. Again, this can happen even if you aren’t using opioids.

Fentanyl and etizolam, along with other contaminants, are increasingly showing up in cocaine.

Here are some simple, but high-impact, steps to take to be prepared for a drug overdose or poisoning:

  • Carry naloxone. Have naloxone on hand, and make sure that everyone you use drugs with knows how and when to use it, and where it’s kept. Think of it like a fire extinguisher: If people don’t know where it is and how to use it, it won’t be of much use during a fire. For free naloxone near you, check out NEXT Distro.
  • Test it. Drug testing in the United States isn’t very accessible for legal and policy reasons, but if you can access mass spectrometry or infrared spectrometry testing in your area, this is the best option. If not, see if you can get testing strips for fentanyl or benzodiazepines near you. You can also get reagent test kits from sites like DanceSafe. These take some time to learn and use, but they offer a lot of information.
  • Have a buddy. Don’t use drugs alone. Have a friend or loved one with you. If an in-person option isn’t possible, try a virtual one, like FaceTime or Zoom. And, if that’s not possible, try the free Never Use Alone hotline at 800-484-3731. They only need your physical location in case they need to send emergency medical services, but, otherwise, it’s completely anonymous and confidential.

If you’re looking to soothe an irritated nose after snorting cocaine, petroleum jelly may offer some relief and protection for your skin and nasal mucosa. Just be sure you don’t apply it too far into your nose.

To minimize irritation in the future, try to alternate nostrils and follow up with a saline spray after snorting.

If you’re concerned about your drug use, there’s help available. You can bring it up to a healthcare professional if you feel comfortable. Or reach out to one of the following free and confidential resources:

Claire Zagorski, MSc, LP, earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. She has practiced clinically as a paramedic in multiple treatment settings, including as a member of the Austin Harm Reduction Coalition. She founded Longhorn Stop the Bleed and is committed to supporting healthcare professionals who seek to integrate harm reduction principles in their practice.