Much like parabens, petrolatum has received a lot of hate over the past few years. Some companies have even had to remove it from their products altogether in order to appease consumer backlash.
But, petrolatum isn’t necessarily a toxic ingredient as long as you buy it from a halfway-decent supplier—even Dr. Weil, the guru of alternative medicine, seems to think so.
Petrolatum—commonly known as petroleum jelly—is a semi-solid hydrocarbon derived from petroleum.
I know what you’re thinking—if it sounds like petroleum and it’s derived from petroleum, it must be all kinds of bad. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Petrolatum goes through a hefty distillation and purification process that effectively removes impurities from its composition.
There are generally three things that make petrolatum an all-around good ingredient:
- It has wound healing abilities
- It’s well-tolerated by sensitive skin types (hello there, eczema!)
- It locks-in moisture
First off, let’s say you have a wound (maybe you’ve just been in a bar brawl and you’re all scratched-up). At this point, you want to avoid scars—at all costs. To avoid scarring, you have to avoid scabbing. And, you can do that by keeping your wounds moist.
Petrolatum just so happens to be a champ in this regard because it’ll (a) prevent moisture loss and (b) prevent other things from entering your skin—like bacteria. In fact, it’s just as good (if not better) than antibacterial ointments in terms of wound healing.
Second, it’s as gentle as can be. Yep, that means it’s both hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. Those of you out there with sensitive skin can rest easy because petrolatum has got you covered. Just don’t go too crazy with it—a thin layer is all you need.
Third, it’s a heavy occlusive. I know I touched on this before. But, I’m going to say it again.
Occlusives reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
What does that mean for your skin?
It means that petrolatum can help dry (or dehydrated) skin from losing its oomph (and by oomph I mean moisture).
You might know this, especially if you’ve ever Google-searched petrolatum. Some people are worried that petrolatum can be contaminated with PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).
The thing about PAHs is that they’re known carcinogens. And they’re naturally found in petroleum. So, unrefined petrolatum can very well contain these substances.
But, honestly, I feel like the cancer claim is over-hyped. As long as you’re using cosmetic-grade petrolatum, you shouldn’t have to worry about any missing links. When you’re shopping, look for a USP label (or a Ph. Eur. label for European residents). That way, you’ll know that your product meets regulation standards.
Other than that, petrolatum is super greasy. So, oily skin types might want to skip it or use it as a night mask only.
And as always, it can break some people out. Especially if they’re using it in thick layers.
- Mineral grease
- Cream white
- Soft parrafin
- Mineral fat
What It’s Used In
Lotions, pomades, ointments (like Neosporin and Vicks), lip balms, lipsticks, eyeliner, hair products, and deodorants.
There are different grades of petrolatum—some are ultra-refined and some aren’t. As long as you’re not slathering on low-quality petrolatum on your face (like ones meant for keeping leather shiny), you won’t raise any toxicity flags.