Why I Don’t Use Petroleum Jelly (and What I Use Instead)

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Why I dont use petroleum jelly and what i use instead
Wellness Mama » Blog » Beauty » Why I Don’t Use Petroleum Jelly (and What I Use Instead)

Petroleum Jelly, the main ingredient in Vaseline®, is often used in beauty products and even on its own to moisturize skin. It’s cheap. It is unscented. It seems to work well for softening skin… what could be the problem?

What is Petroleum Jelly?

Petroleum jelly is a byproduct of the oil refining process. This means it is not sustainable or eco-friendly, and it also explains some of the potential problems with using it.

Petroleum jelly was originally found in the bottom of oil rigs and is further refined for use in the beauty industry. According to packaging and safety info, all of the harmful components are removed before use in beauty or personal care products, but some sources argue that it still contains some harmful components (like hydrocarbons).

How Does Petroleum Jelly Work on Skin?

Petroleum jelly is used in everything from lotions to baby products for its ability to create a protective barrier on the skin and hold in moisture. On labels, it may also appear as Petrolatum, Mineral oil, Liquid paraffin, or Paraffin oil.

While the ability to hold in moisture may seem like a good thing, it can have its downsides as well. Since petroleum jelly is both waterproof and not water soluble, it creates a waterproof barrier on the skin. At first glance, this may sound good, but it also means that it blocks pores and can lock in residue and bacteria. This is also the reason petroleum jelly should not be used on a burn or sunburn, as it locks in heat and can block the body’s ability to heal.

Also, while it certainly gives the appearance of hydrated and moisturized skin, this may be an illusion as there is nothing in petroleum jelly that is actually nourishing the skin. If you are looking for something to help hold in moisture and nourish the skin, there are some natural products that accomplish both (see the end of this post for a list).

Problems with Petroleum Jelly

Besides its pore-blocking potential, petroleum jelly carries some potentially bigger problems as well.

Harmful Hydrocarbons

Petroleum jelly can’t be metabolized by the skin and just sits as a barrier until it wears off. This means that the body isn’t able to gain any benefit from petroleum jelly (like it can from nutrient rich substances like shea butter or cocoa butter), and there is concern that some of the components (like hydrocarbons) may be stored in fat tissue within the body.

In fact, a 2011 study found that:

There is strong evidence that mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body, amounting to approximately 1 g per person. Possible routes of contamination include air inhalation, food intake, and dermal absorption.

This study was interesting because it evaluated both the long term storage potential of these hydrocarbons in the body, and also a woman’s ability to pass them on to her child through breastfeeding. It looked at fat tissue samples obtained from women during a c-section and also a follow up of breast milk samples and found a strong correlation between the amounts in fat tissue and the amounts passed on in breastmilk.

This suggests the potential for long-term accumulation of these hydrocarbons in the body. The study found no link between nutritional habits and hydrocarbon levels in the body but did find a strong potential link between cosmetic and beauty product use and contamination, suggesting that beauty products may be a major source of hydrocarbon exposure.

As moms, this study is especially interesting, since it shows the potential for passing on these contaminants to our children during breastfeeding. We also know that we can’t metabolize these substances, so they can build up in the body and are difficult to remove.

Collagen Breakdown

Because of the barrier that mineral oil/petroleum jelly creates on the skin, there is also some concern about its potential to cause collagen breakdown (which is the opposite of what most women want!).

Essentially, the concern is that when petroleum jelly coats the skin it blocks the skin’s natural ability to breathe and absorb nutrients. This can slow the cell renewal process and cause the skin to pull the necessary moisture and nutrients from within, leading to collagen breakdown over time (aka wrinkles!).

Estrogen Dominance

A growing problem in today’s world, estrogen dominance is when the body has high levels of estrogen and proportionately low levels of progesterone to balance it. It is linked to infertility, menstrual problems, accelerated aging, allergies and autoimmune problems as well as nutrient deficiencies, sleep problems and even some types of cancers.

Many products (including petroleum jelly) contain chemicals called xenoestrogens which may increase estrogen problems in the body. Studies have shown that these chemicals may act on hormone receptors in the body and lead to estrogen dominance.

More Serious Problems

There is the potential that petroleum based products contain other harmful chemicals like 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen found in almost a quarter of all beauty products tested. There is also potential that it may contribute to other types of cancer because of its estrogenic properties mentioned earlier.

Additionally, as drug commercials like to warn us “other more serious complications may occur.” While more serious problems are rare, they can happen and the statistics don’t matter if you are the 1% that ends up with the problem (though to put it in perspective, it is probably about the chance that you actually have liver cancer due to the skin rash you searched for on WebMD).

One of these serious problems is called lipid pneumonia. Though rare, this occurs when small amounts of the petroleum jelly are inhaled and build up in the lungs (as mentioned earlier, the body can’t metabolize or break down petroleum jelly). This creates a potentially serious inflammation in the lungs.

Alternatives To Petroleum Products for the Skin

Thankfully, there are many great alternatives to petroleum jelly and mineral oil that help increase moisture on the skin and provide nourishment as well. The best part? Most of them can be used alone and you don’t even have to make anything!

If you are looking for a simple alternative to petroleum jelly or Vaseline®, try:

  • Shea ButterA natural skin superfood that is high in Vitamins A, E and F. It also contains beneficial fatty acids that nourish skin and it may reduce skin inflammation and increase collagen production. It is excellent on its own or in homemade beauty products. (This is the one I like).
  • Cocoa Butter-A great source of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids, cocoa butter is another great product for skin. There is even some evidence that it may reduce the signs of aging. (This is the brand I’ve used)
  • Beeswax– A great substitute for the waterproof and protective properties of petroleum jelly without the hydrocarbons. Though not usually used alone, beeswax can be blended into homemade beauty products for its skin-protective ability and is especially good in lip balms and body creams.
  • Coconut OilCoconut oil has so many benefits, internal and external, and it can be great for the skin. It does cause breakouts in some people, so I always suggest testing on a small area of skin first, but it is a source of skin-nourishing fatty acids, lauric acid and anti-inflammatory compounds.
  • Almond Oil– A liquid oil that is fragrance free and nourishing to skin.
  • Jojoba Oil-A perfect choice for skin care because it naturally resembles sebum, the oily substance naturally produced by the body to nourish and protect skin. I like to mix Jojoba Oil with shea butter for a simple natural lotion.

Petroleum Jelly Free Skin Recipes

If you’re feeling crafty, there are a lot of great skin-nourishing recipes that you can make using the simple ingredients above:

The Bottom Line

I’ve never been a fan of petroleum jelly (or Vaseline®) because every time I’ve tried it, my naturally oily skin went crazy and I had breakouts for at least a week. Since there are many potential problems with using it and a variety of great natural alternatives, I’m glad it is a product I never really started using.

Do you use petroleum jelly? Have you switched to these alternatives instead?


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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


108 responses to “Why I Don’t Use Petroleum Jelly (and What I Use Instead)”

  1. Luis Avatar

    Lol this is all false statement petroleum jelly does not block pores and it keeps moisture in your skin. I use it every night and I look 20 years younger.

  2. John Eastman Avatar
    John Eastman

    Is there anything besides saline solution that you can use inside nostrils that will moisturize and heal irritated nostrils that if inhaled will not like petroleum jelly be life threatening

  3. Linda Avatar

    I just watched a video on the benefits of vaseline for moisturizing face and there were lots of claims promoting the use of vaseline. I’ve never been a fan of vaseline. Also, I try to do natural and healthy things for my body. First thought was maybe I should try vaseline but there was a nagging feeling that I couldn’t ignore. A little research confirmed that I don’t want to use vaseline. Your post is very helpful and contains great info on very good things to use instead. Will be trying the Shea Butter first. Thanks again for your post.

  4. julie jonson Avatar
    julie jonson

    I like to use Vaseline during allergy season around my eyes when the skin gets itchy and dry. I use it before bed, applying it just to the crease above the eye, and a little way from the lower lashes. Because it creeps. It has worked much better than the cortisone creams the dermatologist has prescribed. However, I don’t think it would be a good idea to use continually.
    However, when that sensitive skin around my eyes is especially itchy and dry, I have used it under my cover-up as a moisturizer, after blotting first. I do not use it both day and night however. And I wipe it off with a gentle glycerine based soap.
    julie –

  5. Angie Avatar

    I have a three month old baby girl and have been using a and d ointment as a barrier at night to prevent diaper rashes. I started thinking to myself maybe I shouldn’t be using this and found this article. Do you have an alternative to recommend?

  6. Skeewee Avatar

    I’ve actually used patroleum jelly every single day without fail since I was about 7 years old. I used to put it all over my face and body to combat dry skin, and as a comfort for myself before bedtime. Years later I shifted to putting it on my face only and for the last 25 years or so only put it around my lips throughout the day. I am now 40 and am healthy as a horse and have perfect skin. I have zero lines or wrinkles and may only get an occasional bump every other month or so during my cycle. Ppl think I am in my 20s. I may be the exception, but I don’t think petroleum jelly is as harmful as ppl are making it out to be.

  7. Amber Avatar

    My daughter gets chapped lips severely. Mainly from licking her lips. She gets the ring around the top and bottom of her lips. What would be the best option for her? We live in Wisconsin so its cold. I want something that will really work and stay on.

  8. Erika Avatar

    Thanks for this informative article! I have Lichen Sclerosus(skin condition on the vulva) and I use Vaseline on my LS affected skin. I use it as a skin barrier and daily lubricant. Without it my skin becomes dry and tears..which is very painful. I’ve tried other natural products like coconut oil and emu oil and they work okay but none have the lasting power needed to keep my skin from tearing. My skin absorbs the oils and then I’m left having to reapply 5-6 times a day. Do you know of a vaseline alternative that works and acts just like vaseline but used more natural ingredients?

  9. Annette Avatar

    Actually petroleum jelly has a 0 comdogenic rating. And mineral oil and petroleum jelly molecules are too large to be able to absorb into the skin. And coconut oil and almond oil definitely make people break out a lot more often than is mentioned. I used to trust you. Reading this article made me realize that I probably need to stop reading your website for advice. I love natural but I’m not about misinformation.

  10. Angela Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama!
    This is a great post you wrote on Petroleum Jelly/Vaseline. I have been having mysterious chronic blistering outbreaks on my face since I was a child, and I do not feel I’ve ever gotten a proper diagnosis to date. Today I tried to go see a specialist, and was disappointed when they told me that all the natural topical that I was using, like aloe vera and coconut oil, may be causing my rash because my body recognizes them as “foreign organisms.” Then, to top that, they said the only thing I should be using is Vaseline. I was like, “Huh?!”

    I left bewildered.

    So I came home and found this article, now I feel much better! Everything you write makes sense. It confirms that every time I’ve put a petroleum based product on my skin, it feels like my skin is suffocating, like it cannot breathe.

    Thanks again!

  11. sharon Avatar

    Please note that shea butter and others on the list are also hydrocarbons. Just classifying hydrocarbons as bad, is not scientifically correct. It makes me wonder how many of the references are not directly linked to Vaseline but to other hydrocarbons. Always question!

  12. Jennifer.E. Avatar

    I have eczema on my hands and this winter it’s out of control. Nothing was working then I bought a jar of it at the dollar store and within 6 hours my deep cuts healed and it’s no longer itchy.

    I enjoyed reading about that 30 something lady’s Mother who is in her 70’s and has great skin!

    I will only use it when my eczema goes out of control! It’s like everything else….moderation!

  13. Lisa H Avatar

    I started using honey on my face for 40 minutes before a shower once or twice a week after learning that it is considered a humectant – something that draws moisture into the skin. This was in order to replace an expensive over the counter product that was doing the same but also offering up lots of chemicals and, from what I learned on another website, was likely drying out the deeper layers of my skin. My skin has never looked better! The honey also acts as a mild exfoliator. It’s a little messy at first, but once I got the hang of pinning up my hair and leaving a honey free border. It’s also not a bad thing being able to have a tasty treat if it gets a little itchy during my 30-40 minutes. At the end, I only use water to wash off, and then sometimes, but not always, use WM’s lotion if I have time for it to soak in before bed. 🙂

  14. Robert B Walker Avatar
    Robert B Walker

    I use White Rose 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly and I have never had a problem with any reaction. I think Baar is a responsible and reputable retailer of high quality health products.

  15. Francesca Oskwarek Avatar
    Francesca Oskwarek

    Hi! So today my husband had a mole removed and the instructions for it post procedure was to put Vaseline on it. I was wondering if the honest company’s healing balm was a good alternative? Or what is??

    1. Nancy Avatar

      My derm removed skin for biopsy and has me applying Vaseline and bandage for a week. I told him Vaseline was not the best. He said dude what I want but there may be consequences. So I’m using the Vaseline. Docs don’t know!

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