Petroleum jelly is one of the ingredients that create the most fear and confusion among consumers in the skincare industry. So much has been said about this ingredient in the past couple of years; unfortunately, much of that has been wrong. Fear could have been avoided if they had chosen a better word for this ill-titled little ingredient. However, specific rules and regulations in cosmetics regulation stipulate that certain chemical names must be used to properly define an ingredient for cosmetic use and purposes. Hence, the word “petroleum jelly.” It’s often referred to as many other things: petrolatum, paraffin wax, mineral oil. For purposes of this blog, they’re all the same, but strictly speaking, there can be technical differences between these. For this blog, I just want to rope them under the same umbrella. We’re talking about one thing 😊.
Products that contain petroleum jelly that we know is the tried, tested, and true: Vaseline. So, Vaseline comes to mind when we’re talking about petroleum jelly. Even if you don’t like it, something in your skincare probably contains a form of petroleum jelly. Be sure to check your facial skincare, baby’s skincare, body skincare, hand creams, and cuticle oils after reading this post. I am absolutely sure you will find this ingredient somewhere in your cupboard.
It really is a beautiful ingredient. That’s why we care about petroleum jelly.
To speak to the fear created around this ingredient, it’s helpful to first understand why we care about it and use it in so many products in the first place. This is a very common ingredient, and it’s prescribed by many dermatologists and skin care professionals – for good reason. It’s been proven to benefit eczema sufferers and is one of the best moisturizers. The reason for this? Its incredible occlusive abilities. Occlusive abilities are those abilities of a product or an ingredient to form a lasting seal on your skin to keep the moisture and the hydration inside of your skin and to keep it from evaporating into the atmosphere through a process we call transepidermal water loss (TEWL). It also has proven abilities to soothe irritated skin and aid in healing cracked skin and other sensitive skin conditions. It really is a beautiful ingredient. That’s why we care about petroleum jelly.
Let’s look at some common myths about petroleum jelly and why so many love to hate it.
1. You’re putting crude oil on your face.
This cannot be more incorrect. This is a typical statement made by someone on the Internet who understands very little about the chemical and refinement process this goes through. The little they do understand was taken and presented as a truth, which then blew up into this massive debate we see about petroleum jelly today. The most dangerous individuals are those with little knowledge of a topic who then use that small piece of information in a vacuum.
The truth is that crude oil is used for a vast array of different purposes, with vastly different refinement processes. Various regulations and rules apply to each process and end product. When you put an ingredient in a skincare product, it has to be refined and purified to a cosmetic grade. That means the highest form of safety precautions, procedures, and refinement processes must be followed to be legally considered a cosmetic-grade ingredient.
The checks and balances on this ingredient are far higher than on most natural ingredients.
Raw crude oil goes through a complex refinement and purification process to become petroleum jelly. It is essential to understand that petroleum jelly is a highly refined by-product of crude oil. To date, there is no scientific evidence to prove that this is a dangerous ingredient. However, due to the misinformation about petroleum jelly and because synthetic ingredients are so highly regulated, the European Cosmetic Regulator further requires proof of the refinement history and the origin of the petroleum jelly used in a skincare product. Without this proof, it cannot be legally registered for sale. The checks and balances on this ingredient are far higher than on most natural ingredients.
I like using the drinking water analogy to better explain the “crude oil myth.” Water is arguably the most important resource on Earth and one of the most important things that we can consume in our daily diets. It’s life-giving, purifying, hydrating, and we will drink at least 1.5 to 2.5 liters of water daily. But much of our water comes from groundwater, still standing water, lakes, and rivers. These raw water sources are filled with dangerous organisms, bacteria, and viruses that are dangerous to human health. But just because the water you see in your glass, when you pick it up comes from that source does not mean that is what you are drinking. It goes through a complex process of coagulation, purification, and sedimentation to remove all of the viruses, bacteria, microorganisms, and particles so that it is clean, beautiful drinking water when it comes to you.
This is the same with petroleum jelly.
2. Petroleum jelly is a carcinogen.
This is a concise paragraph because the absolute truth is there is no scientific evidence to date that proves that this is a carcinogen. Carcinogens have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Unfortunately, there has been disinformation that petroleum jelly is a known carcinogen and, therefore, can cause cancer in humans. That is absolutely untrue. There is no scientific evidence to prove that this is a danger to your health. Petroleum jelly is an approved cosmetic-grade ingredient by the FDA and the European Commission for Cosmetic Regulations. Furthermore, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, which is an objective committee in the European Union put together by a group of scientists in the field to evaluate the safety of ingredients for human use in cosmetics, has also not found that this is dangerous to your health.
3. Petroleum jelly causes breakouts and is comedogenic
To explain the issue concerning comedogenicity is a technical process; there is a lot to be wary of and a lot to take with a grain of salt when you hear a product is comedogenic. Be sure to check out this video explaining the comedogenicity issues and listen the My FIGGI Life podcast with Dr. Natalia Spierings. Simply put, though, it is not comedogenic for several reasons. First, the molecules in petroleum jelly are way too big to penetrate your pores and, therefore, clog them. They cannot penetrate the pores. It’s an occlusive. It sits on top of the skin and forms a seal. So, chemically speaking, it is impossible. Second, you could have issues if you don’t cleanse your skin correctly. Oil build-up from the day, makeup, and pollution can all get stuck in the pores. When you apply a fantastic occlusive, like petroleum jelly, over this dirt, it seals it overnight. Thereby possibly causing breakouts.
Also, very important here is that clogged pores are a lot more than not cleansing correctly. It’s got to do with how your hair follicle is structured and how that operates. If you want to know more about that, listen the My Figgi Life podcast episode with Dr. Natalia Spierings, where she talks about that.
4. Can I use an alternative to petroleum jelly?
Absolutely! However, the synthetic alternatives to petroleum jelly have been proven to be 50% less effective than petroleum jelly, and the natural alternative is even less effective. When considering natural alternatives like beeswax, we also need to start thinking about our environmental impact. Some may argue that petroleum jelly, due to its process, is also bad for the environment. I implore you to watch this video, which explains why it is not.
Regarding alternatives to petroleum jelly, we need to be honest and understand that they may still contain a form of petroleum jelly. Prevalent alternatives to Vaseline, for example, are Aquaphor and the CeraVe Healing Balm, which are beautiful products. I do not personally use them because I have sensitive skin, and they contain fragrances and other irritants that do not work for my sensitive skin. But if you don’t have this issue (we’re not about fear-mongering here), you can enjoy them. Just understand that they contain petroleum jelly.
The takeaway here is something that I strive towards. I genuinely believe skincare is a personal decision. It’s your choice what you put on your skin. But for me personally, when I make those decisions, I like to know that I understand the facts to make an informed decision. That is the only purpose of this blog post, and I hope I have given you the facts and answered your questions about petroleum jelly. But at the end of the day, don’t use it if you’re uncomfortable using it.
But as Dr. Natalia said on the My FIGGI Life podcast: “Don’t avoid it because you’re afraid of it. Instead, avoid it because you don’t like it.”
What are your feelings about petroleum jelly? 😊.
Love and Light