Petroleum jelly is a common item found in the medicine cabinet, and for good reason. The product is gentle, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores) and is commonly used to protect minor cuts, scrapes, and burns and to protect skin from windburn and chapping. Most people know petroleum jelly by the brand name “Vaseline” (affiliate).
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Vaseline works by creating a sealing barrier between cells, locking in moisture which helps to speed up your skin’s natural recovery from dryness. For people that suffer from dry skin, irritation, minor cuts, chapped lips, diaper rash, or eczema, Vaseline is likely to bring relief. However, Vaseline has gotten some bad press over the years and I know a number of people avoid using it. Which brings me to the great Vaseline debate!
Why The Debate?
Vaseline is a byproduct of the oil industry. During the refinery of crude oil, the leftover residue is purified and turned into petroleum jelly. Given that this is a byproduct of the oil industry, it is considered to be not eco-friendly. The concern is that it is not a sustainable resource and therefore not good for the planet.
Is Vaseline safe to use? Generally, petroleum jelly is regarded as a safe product but the components that are removed from the oil during the refining process are carcinogenic in some cases. As stated on the Vaseline website, Vaseline is a triple-purified product and regarded as non-carcinogenic. However, there are plenty of petroleum jelly imitators out there and you don’t always know the extent of purification.
Finally, some people voice concerns about the safety of petroleum jelly on your skin. Petroleum jelly is water-repellant and not water-soluble which means that it creates a seal on the surface of the skin so that moisture does not leave the skin. However, the thick texture makes it difficult to cleanse from the skin (so never apply on an unwashed face or you will be sealing in the dirt).
Personally, I use Vaseline on myself and my children. I trust the brands purification process and think that the environment concerns are not directly related to the demand for Vaseline. When used properly, Vaseline is a great product to include in your home medicine cabinet. A few of my favorite applications:
Eczema – apply a thick cream followed by Vaseline to help seal in moisture.
Patches of dry skin will benefit from a layer of Vaseline – I like to slather my feet in Vaseline and then put socks on before bed – my feet are so soft in the morning!
Lips – when your lips are dry and cracked, Vaseline helps to smooth them and makes a great base before applying lipstick.
Prevention of infection: after surgery, I recommend that Vaseline (not bacitracin or Neosporin) be applied to the surgical site. Studies show that Vaseline prevents just as many if not more infections that Bacitracin and Neosporin without the risk of contact allergies that those two medications have.
Is there anything I can use instead?
As we become more and more educated about eco-friendly products and gain a better understanding of clean skincare I get many questions about product replacements.
A colleague of mine recently sent me a product to test out as a Vaseline alternative. Dr. Rogers RESTORE healing balm (affiliate) is a petroleum-free ointment that contains Glycerin. The ointment has a similar texture to petroleum jelly although I found it to be a bit lighter in consistency. Glycerin hydrates and promotes healing. The inactive ingredients in RESTORE include Castor Oil and Castor Wax which (reduce irritation and protect raw or sensitive skin.
I think that RESTORE (affiliate) is a great clean alternative to Vaseline (affiliate). However, you will have to pay a lot more for this product. A small 0.5oz jar of RESTORE is $30 while a small jar of Vaseline is closer to $3.