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?

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.


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

  1. Rebecca Avatar

    Great article ! So if I have a recipe for a lip balm that calls for petroleum jelly i can just sub it for shea butter?

  2. Kristina c. Avatar
    Kristina c.

    Thank you for this. My five year old had a severe skin reaction to any petroleum products. Meaning if someone puts on lotion and touches her even for a second she has a reaction. Some are worse than others. We bath her directly after a crowd in castile soap and tea tree oil, then use a tea tree body butter in her to keep infections to a minimum. I realize tide and such products are cheesy and work well, and it’s bit everyone’s responsibility to change because my daughter has a weird allergy but every little bit is helpful.

  3. Angie Avatar

    Hi I just wanted to share that Grass Fed beef tallow also makes a wonderful moisturizer when mixed with olive oil and essential oils. My husband is black and has always had a struggle with rusty, itchy skin and we have tried everything and nothing worked until this. It also has a moister sealant but it absorbs at a much higher level then coconut oil or Shea butter.

  4. Lizabeth Wiinamaki Avatar
    Lizabeth Wiinamaki

    I should have read the fine print ingredient list on EraAgelessFuture products. The eye serum first 4 ingredients are silicone and the 5th is organic jojoba. Nothing else is organic but it is marketed as such and “holistically balanced and responsibly wildcrafted crafted herbs.” If you read the fine print it says “includes certified organic ingredients.” I will stick to making my own products. Thanks wellness mama for your recipes.

  5. Jo Jackson Avatar
    Jo Jackson

    I recently found Waxelene, an alternative to Vaseline. Ingredients are: Organic Soy Oil, Beeswax, Natural Vitamin E Oil, Organic Rosemary Oil. I ordered the small lip balm from Amazon and found the large 9 ounce jar at CVS.

    I love it! Highly recommend Waxelene!

  6. Jennifer Avatar

    My most recent beauty concern has been extreme dryness and redness under my left eye. I have no idea where this came from. Like most of the natural “remedies” that I’ve tried in my life, the ones you listed haven’t worked for me. Cocoa butter? Dried and irritated my skin even more. Coconut oil? Sounds like a winner, and I have it in abundance, but it didn’t do anything for my skin. Beeswax? Not sure where to find that, so I have yet to try it. Shea butter? Do I really have to send off to Africa for an expensive nut butter, adding an additional hefty charge for s&h? I don’t have the funds. (No, really. I don’t.) I’ve also tried cucumber, tea, oatmeal, and honey, which made a noticeable difference for all of half an hour. But one thing I’ve tried has worked beautifully, so much so that my dryness has all but disappeared, without any breakouts or other fearsome troubles, and that’s petroleum jelly. So, thank you kindly for your advice. I’ll keep my Vaseline.

  7. irene Salinas Avatar
    irene Salinas

    I use Vaseline to take my makeup off. What can i use instead of Vaseline. Thanks for the great article. Irene.

  8. Terri Avatar

    Hello, thank you for the information. I have a skin condition called rosacea and I have used vaseline on my face daily as it seems to help keep the rosacea flare ups to a minimum. As I am wanting to be more mindful in eating healthier, I suppose the same should go for my skin. What would you recommend to use to help lock in moisture as rosacea can be very drying? I have tried using coconut oil in the past, but I found my flare ups got worse and the coconut oil didn’t hold the moisture as well as the vaseline.

    1. Rhonda Avatar

      I have used organic apple cider vinegar for my rosacea. It has helped since the very first time I used it. I was my face and then use that as an astringent at night. I also follow with a moisturizer on some nights. I also rinse my face after letting the vinegar sit for a bit. I love how soft it makes my face feel! 🙂

    2. Angel Avatar

      Hi Terri. I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I also have Rosacea, I recently purchased a product by Lotus Moon Skin Care called Cherry Blossom Healing Soothe. It’s for very dry, sensitive skin. I haven’t been able to use it because my skin reacts to everything!! But if you don’t have severely reactive skin, it may be helpful for you. And it has a wonderful natural fragrance too.

      The only thing I’ve been able to use is Vaseline…sigh.

  9. Theresa Hoff Avatar
    Theresa Hoff

    After doing some research while using essential oils I found out that coconut oil is a barrier oil and is not easily absorbed into the skin. So we do consume it and use for other things other than uses on the skin, however I do use fractionated coconut oil which is in liquid form, when using with the essential oils, besides sweet almond oil, hope this helps!

  10. Deb Avatar

    As a pj alternative, I melt coconut oil, wisk in some olive oil until creamy and thickened. Looks and feels like Vaseline. In the warmer weather I add some beeswax to keep from having a puddle of oil.

  11. Peter Avatar

    All you say about Petroleum Jelly is true for application to living beings, but there is NO BETTER cost effective anti-rust/metal protectant to be had. It even works well in a marine environment. The only other application I’ve used with success cost 10 times as much and includes scary petroleum-based volatiles in its ingredient list. So, I’m still buyin’ Petroleum Jelly. Just not for skin.

  12. Carole Avatar

    Kayla you might like to look into emu oil as a natural healing aid. It is very safe, even for baby’s sensitive skin, and will help with any pain and encourage a quick heal.

  13. Kayla Avatar

    My husband and I are expecting a baby in Feb and won’t know gender until birth. I have 3 older boys (and a girl ?) and we are definitely going to circumcise if it’s a boy like we did our others. In the past I didn’t know about petroleum jelly and that’s what they used to help my sons heal. I have been looking for a natural alternative. What would you use for that? Lanolin?

    1. Lea Avatar

      Hey Kayla,
      I have 4 boys, and yes, Lanolin is wonderful. The Nom brand from Amazon is much easier to use than the tube of Lansinoh. Also, the man who did 2 of our boys is from Israel, and he also puts honey on them, and I have since found that honey is really good for wounds. Just make sure that is is not crystallized.
      But lanolin is so, so amazing…

    2. Kirsten Avatar


      Were you able to find something to use for your baby? I wondered the same thing as an alternative to petroleum jelly. Would love to find something more skin friendly for my baby boy due in April. Thanks 🙂

  14. April Avatar

    Thank you for this…just pitched my Vaseline lip container after reading this. I have used it for years and wondered why my lips are always dry and appear to be aging. The collagen reduction would explain it! I will be using your suggested alternatives! Awesome blog!

    1. Terelyn Avatar

      Depending on how much you use, your lips might peel and crack when you stop using Vaseline, as it inhibits the regular shedding cycle of the skin. I’ve read that Burt’s Bees is not a healthy alternative, so now I rely on making my own with coconut oil and Shea butter. Lanolin is great, too, if you can tolerate it. The main thing is not to lick your lips but use a moistened napkin or paper towel when necessary and also you can exfoliate your peeling or chapped lips with a body scrub (coconut oil & sugar) a few times a week to remove the dead skin. I think if your lips are healthy, you shouldn’t have to apply lip balm constantly but dry lips seem worse in the winter and so I use more coconut oil and my homemade lip balm then!

  15. Crystal Avatar

    What do u recommend for when your nose gets so sore from blowing it all the time? That is typically when I would use Petroleum Jelly on the inside and outside of my nose. I tried coconut oil but it did not heal or sother it as well.Thank yoi!

    1. Carole Avatar

      You might like the Emu Bliss On the Go stick as it’s used by people who get sores around their nostrils from their CPAP machines. It’s all natural and contains soothing almond oil, sunflower oil and other botanicals.

      1. Crystal Avatar

        Thank you so much for the suggestion for a sore nose. I am definitely going to try themailing ?

  16. Alissa Avatar

    Thanks for this article. Pawpaw ointment is popular here, especially as a lip balm. It’s seen as safe because it has natural fruit in it, but I’ve heard it has a petroleum base. Is that true?

  17. olga Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    I was just looking over your simple lotion recipe which calls for beeswax. Do you think emusifying wax could be used in place of the beeswax if all other ingredients are kept the same? I get chapped lips a lot and a few years ago bought some UNpetroleum jelly by Alba. I still have it– it is not bad , but don;t know if it as any other no no ingredients in it. But I am just getting interested now into making my own beauty and care products. Thank you for sharing your recipes. Blessings to you. Olga

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I haven’t tried, but I think it would work. Typically, emulsifying wax is great for blending liquids and oils, but I would think it should work with all oils.

      1. Christy Avatar

        Wouldn’t emulsifying wax be a petroleum product as well?
        I use bees wax, it is not difficult to use, just bring it to melting temperature in a double boiler, warm you oils to combine with in separately (double boiler or crock pot is probably best for this) and as soon as the wax melts, combine the two, keep the temperature as low as possible, bee’s wax once it over heats takes on a burnt smell whereas if it is kept at just melting temperature it will keep the lovely honey smell. Once you have combined the wax with any natural oil, the next time you need to use it to make a beauty product it will melt more quickly, I keep it in the fridge and it keeps for months.

  18. Robert Walker Avatar
    Robert Walker

    I have dry skin that’s connected to a condition, and I have tried all the alternate products you list except almond oil and a number of others from time to time, but I find petroleum jelly is the one thing that really soothes when I apply it. Baar (has a catalog) sells a more refined petroleum jelly. It seems the negative consequences that may be associated with petroleum jelly may affect women more who have used cosmetics every day that contain it, and I cannot help but wonder if there isn’t an eco bias in the effort to get away from anything oil based. It seems to me even petroleum jelly doesn’t last that long to have a very deleterious pore blocking effect. I think women are greatly more conscious of their skin’s appearance than men, and so use these products a lot more.

    1. Gwen Avatar

      I would guess that the reason PJ works the way it does for you is because it cut’s off the air and makes a real barrier. Have you tried any of these oils (or a combo) with beeswax? I think the more beeswax the sturdier (if that’s the best word) the salve and the longer it takes to absorb which in this case is what your looking for. I have found olive oil for me doesn’t absorb as quickly as others either.

      1. Robert Walker Avatar
        Robert Walker

        Thanks for your concern; yes I’ve used Honey Guy Waterblocker Skin Cream which is a beeswax product; it has an interesting texture, but I don’t feel it penetrates as PJ does. However, I’ve tried and used all sorts of skin care products for my dry skin purchased everywhere from Smallflower.com to Swansonsvitamins.com. People are touting products with magnesium these days because they say we don’t get enough magnesium, but it stings a bit when mixed in with a cream and I don’t like that. Here’s one for you Zum Body shea butter & meadowfoam seed oil body lotion; I like the shea butter products but they’re generally more expensive than PJ. I can’t quite get beyond thinking there is an overly pro-environment view of PJ; even the Mama whose site this is only used the word “may” when saying PJ “may” have some negative effects. Cheers.

    2. evelyn cardona Avatar
      evelyn cardona

      I use petolium jelly every night on my face and neck it is thes best

  19. Tanya Skinner Avatar
    Tanya Skinner

    Wonderful! Once I started finding out about petroleum jelly very early this year I quickly got rid on our chapsticks and lotions and that’s how I googled you…or I mean alternatives…and now…I’ve been making our own lotion and chaptstick recipes since. I’ve probably made approx 120 chapsticks for our family (of 8) and for friends a family…it’s a true hit! (50 were for a church event). THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUAL RESEARCH AND SHARING YOUR KNOWLEDGE TO OTHERS…AWARENESS IS CRUCIAL

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