Many people use Vaseline as a cheap way to soften and moisturize their skin. Petroleum jelly is a semisolid mixture of fatty substances that are a byproduct of the crude oil industry. A common brand name is Vaseline.
Although it can soften skin, there are many reasons never to put petroleum jelly on your skin.
Products containing petroleum jelly can contaminate the body, interfere with estrogen levels, and may contain carcinogenic substances.
The good news is that there are much safer and better alternatives for your skin without the health issues associated with petroleum jelly.
Natural emollients like coconut oil, Shea butter, jojoba oil, and almond oil are completely natural products that haven’t gone through a refining process. These oils contain many natural and healthy ingredients that nourish, moisturize, and protect your skin at the same time – something which petroleum jelly cannot do. In fact, some of those natural oils are so healthy that you can cook with them!
Read on to find out why you should stop using petroleum jelly on your skin and what natural alternatives are much better.
What is Vaseline
Vaseline contains petroleum jelly which is refined from oil extracted from the ground. The chemist behind the discovery of petroleum jelly noticed how oilmen would smear residue from the oil drill on wounds to help them heal. The oil residue is refined to remove impurities from it, which results in petroleum jelly.
What Petroleum Jelly Does to Your Skin
Apart from being an ingredient in Vaseline, many beauty products contain petroleum jelly to help keep moisture in the skin. It does this by forming a protective, waterproof layer over the skin. It may be listed on beauty and skincare products as petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin oil, or liquid paraffin.
Having a waterproof layer on your skin may seem like a good thing, but the problem is that petroleum jelly doesn’t allow your skin to breathe. This means that it doesn’t allow moisture to enter your skin. Petroleum jelly could also aggravate problems like acne and rosacea because it can lock in dirt and grime in your pores.
So, all petroleum jelly does is softening your skin but without any other health benefits for your skin. For example, natural oils are much better for your skin because they contain nourishing fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants, antibacterial properties, and antimicrobial properties that protect your skin naturally.
However, there are many who promote the benefits of using petroleum jelly for dry skin. For example, Dr. Andrew Weil says that all types of harmful substances are removed from petroleum jelly during the refining process.1 Dr. Alexa Kimball from Stanford University Medical Center says that petroleum jelly is an excellent moisturizer and doesn’t cause allergic reactions.2 Also, the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology says that industrial grade mineral oil may be comedogenic, however cosmetic grade mineral oil is not.
Vaseline says on its website that its product is non-comedogenic, which means that the product itself does not block pores. The website also mentions that the product is triple-filtered, ensuring it is truly free from impurities and safe to use.
This, however, doesn’t mean that petroleum based products are 100% safe. Dr. Weil says that products containing petroleum jelly are not safe to be applied inside of the nostrils as this could cause lung inflammation.1 According to Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson from Mayo Clinic, inhaling fat-based substances such as petroleum jelly or mineral oil for prolonged periods can cause lung problems. The bottom line is that you should not apply petroleum jelly inside of the nostrils to relieve dry nose. It’s also worth noting that Vaseline has a warning that it’s for external use only.
Dangers Associated with Petroleum Jelly
In order to find out if petroleum jelly is completely safe and doesn’t cause any side effects, let’s look at what science says as to the safety of petroleum jelly. Some of these reasons may convince you to stop using petroleum jelly on your skin altogether.
Contaminates the body
One concern with using petroleum jelly on your skin is that your body can’t metabolize it. Therefore, petroleum jelly provides no benefit to your skin or body other than softening dry skin. Some research also suggests that petroleum jelly contains harmful substances that can build up in the body.
The Journal of Women’s Health published a report saying that hydrocarbons from cosmetics in mineral oil (which is also a petroleum product) can contaminate the body. The scientists found that these compounds enter the body through the skin, inhalation, and diet. These are then stored in the fat tissue and can be passed on through breastfeeding. They concluded that “cosmetics might be a relevant source of the contamination.”3
This is a cause for concern because the Journal of Women’s Health stated that “mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body.”
Affects estrogen levels
Compounds in petroleum jelly may also cause higher estrogen levels in the body. An estrogen dominance in the body affects a woman’s reproductive system, causes fibrocystic breast changes, mood swings and premenstrual syndrome.
The Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology found that petroleum jelly has estrogen activity. The increase in estrogen levels was connected with using petroleum jelly and products containing petroleum jelly for skin care. The researchers found that petroleum jelly contains hydrocarbons and that the refining process can vary by manufacturer. The concern is that petroleum jelly products can negatively affect the endocrine system.4
May contain carcinogenic substances
What’s even more worrying about using petroleum-based substances is that they may contain cancer-causing compounds.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that many cosmetic products that are petroleum-based contain a cancerogenic substance called 1,4-Dioxane. This has been found in around 22% of cosmetics including baby soaps and body lotions. Although EWG rates Vaseline as having no cancer risk,5 they recommend that “consumers must choose products carefully, with an eye toward avoiding potentially hazardous ingredients.”6
A report published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology on the cancer-causing effect of mineral oil and petroleum based products found a connection between mineral oil and cancer but not with petroleum jelly. The researchers found that petroleum jelly didn’t have an effect on tumor growth whereas mineral oil sped up tumor growth.7
So, it seems that there is much controversy if rubbing petroleum jelly on the skin will actually cause tumors and currently the link is not established yet. However, why take the risk when much better natural emollients are available? Is it not better to use natural oils that don’t just soften skin, but provide nutrients and help keep skin healthy? Especially, when it’s been scientifically proven that petroleum jelly does have health concerns associated with it.
Other health problems associated with petroleum jelly
Another associated problem petroleum jelly products have is their effect on the skin when it forms a protective barrier.
Risk of bacterial vaginosis
Doctors have found that using petroleum jelly can put a woman at a greater risk of developing bacterial vaginosis or candidiasis.
The journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that women who used petroleum jelly around their vaginal area were twice as likely to develop bacterial vaginosis.8 According to Dr. Sten Vermund from the Institute for Global Health, petroleum jelly is slightly alkaline and may promote the growth of “bad” bacteria in the vagina. Dr. Vermund explains that an acidic vaginal environment is essential for vaginal health.9
Another health risk of using petroleum jelly alluded to by Dr. Andrew Weil earlier in this article is developing lipoid pneumonia. Inhaling petroleum products over prolonged period can cause respiratory complications.
The Journal of General Internal Medicine reports that lipoid pneumonia occurs when petroleum jelly or mineral oil is inhaled or ingested. The researchers reported that frequently using lip balm with mineral oil or applying petroleum jelly to your nasal passages can increase your risk of lipoid pneumonia.10
The University of Maryland lists petroleum jelly as a poisonous substance that can be harmful if swallowed or gets into your eyes.11
Very often, petroleum jelly is recommended because it is a cheap skin moisturizer. But, it is good to remember that your skin is the largest organ in your body. Do you really want to be using cheap products on your skin when there are better and safer alternatives?
For example, research published in the journal Dermatitis found that coconut oil is just as effective and safe as mineral oil at treating dry, itchy skin. What’s more, coconut oil also has an antiseptic effect on the skin which can kill off infection-causing germs.12
Natural alternatives to Petroleum Jelly
To help keep your skin looking good and healthy, let’s look at why you should consider many of the great natural alternatives available if you no longer want to use petroleum jelly on your skin.
Shea butter is a great alternative to petroleum jelly because it nourishes your skin and keeps it hydrated. The butter is obtained from a nut which grows on the shea tree and doesn’t need refining to keep your skin healthy.
Shea butter contains vitamins A and E which are well-known in promoting healthy skin. Shea butter is also a rich source of healthy fatty acids that nourish and hydrate the skin.
A review into shea butter found that it contains cinnamic acid which has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. These can help to kill off free radicals from your skin and help prevent visible signs of aging.13
Studies into the long-term use of shea butter in skincare found that there are no harmful side effects and it is a good natural ingredient in topical preparations.14
Shea butter can also be used to relieve nasal stuffiness and it is just as effective as petroleum-based products. The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reported that shea butter is an effective nasal decongestant and is just as effective as nasal drops.15
To find out more on how to use shea butter for great looking skin, please read my article on the 12 benefits of shea butter for hair, skin, and health. There you will find out how shea butter can help to treat skin conditions like eczema, dry skin, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. You can also find out how to use shea butter as a natural, safe lip balm.
To treat dry skin naturally and avoid using petroleum jelly on your skin, you can use virgin coconut oil as a great remedy for many skin conditions. Coconut oil helps to boost collagen in your skin and its antibacterial activities kill off infection-causing bacteria.16
Unlike petroleum jelly, which just stops moisture escaping from your skin, the lauric acid in coconut oil penetrates the skin’s layers to provide deep-down moisturization.
A study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology found that coconut oil also helps to reduce skin inflammation and acts as a mild analgesic (pain reliever).17 There is also evidence that coconut oil acts better than mineral oil products when used to treat dry skin.12
The Journal of Cosmetic Science found that coconut oil could help prevent hair damage. The study showed that coconut oil was superior to mineral oil in preventing hair damage. In the research, mineral oil had no effect on protein loss in hair whereas coconut oil helped to boost protein in hair strands and prevent protein loss.18
Unlike petroleum-based products, coconut oil will also help to stop itching that is often associated with eczema, dry skin, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
Sweet almond oil is much better for your skin than any mineral oil-based cosmetic product. There are a number of ways to use sweet almond oil, but it works as the perfect skin moisturizer. Being rich in vitamin E, almond oil helps to keep your skin young looking and healthy.
Research into the health properties of almond oil has found that it contains anti-inflammatory properties that can help to treat dry skin conditions and eczema. The researchers found that almond oil helps to rejuvenate skin and is an excellent emollient.19
Almond oil is so gentle on the skin that you can use it to moisturize the skin around your eyes. Rather than use petroleum jelly as a night eye cream, gently rub almond oil to reduce wrinkles naturally around your eyes and on your face.
Jojoba oil is perfect for your skin because it protects your skin and locks in moisture at the same time. It can be used on all skin types because it hydrates the skin and also helps to remove a buildup of excess oil from the skin.
Studies into the benefits of jojoba oil on the skin have confirmed that it is hypoallergenic and great for all skin types. A study from 2009 found that jojoba oil is a natural emollient which makes skin softer and healthier without becoming sticky and greasy.20 Another study found that a mixture of jojoba oil and glycerol can provide skin hydration for up to 24 hours.21
Jojoba oil also helps to repair damaged skin because of its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, jojoba oil actively helps to speed up the healing of skin wounds.22
So use jojoba oil to moisturize your skin naturally and enjoy healthy, blemish-free skin.
You can stop using petroleum jelly on your skin because avocado oil is far superior to mineral oils. Avocado oil contains high levels of oleic acid and studies have shown that this has many skin benefits.
A scientific study on avocado oil in 2013 found that avocado oil helps to boost collagen in the skin. This is important in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and in repairing skin wounds. The benefit of almond oil to your skin is due to the oleic acid and other fatty acids in it.23
Avocado oil has also been proven to be effective to treat various inflammatory skin conditions. The journal Dermatology reported that avocado oil mixed with vitamin B12 is a great natural treatment for psoriasis. Avocado oil can be used in treating long-term chronic skin conditions without any side effects.24
Avocado oil has amazing benefits for your skin and more. It is perfect to cook with it as avocado oil has a very high smoking point. Some of the proven health benefits of avocado oil are helping to reduce cholesterol, improve heart health, and relieve arthritis pains.
Rosehip oil can help you nourish your skin and keep it well hydrated. The benefits of rosehip oil to your skin are due to the high levels of vitamin C and A, omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, as well as powerful antioxidants.
You can apply rosehip oil directly to your skin to allow its moisturizing properties keep your skin hydrated. The advantage of using rosehip oil on your skin was shown in a study from 2015. During the research, doctors used pure rosehip oil to help wounds heal quicker and to naturally prevent scars forming. When rosehip oil was applied directly to the affected area, swelling and redness were reduced.25
Rosehip oil can be used to treat rosacea and psoriasis, protect against sun damage, and help reduce the symptoms of acne.
Cocoa butter is a far superior skin moisturizer, lip balm, and anti-wrinkle cream than petroleum jelly. Cocoa butter is not only delicious but it also contains moisturizing fatty acids that have numerous skin benefits. Cocoa butter is also safe enough to massage onto your skin to prevent stretch marks naturally.
The journal Nutrients reported that cocoa butter contains polyphenols which improve the skin’s elasticity, tone, and collagen. The journal said that cocoa components have been used in treating psoriasis, acne, skin cancer, and wound healing. It is a great natural agent for treating various skin diseases and preventing them. Cocoa butter can also be used as a natural anti-wrinkle cream.26
Beeswax, olive oil and honey
Beeswax is used to reduce skin swelling, itchiness, treat fungal infections on the skin, and treat the symptoms of hemorrhoids.27
One study compared a mixture containing beeswax, honey, and olive oil against Vaseline in treating dermatitis. The study found that the beeswax mixture was superior to Vaseline and the beeswax remedy treated dermatitis and psoriasis more effectively.27
In conclusion – Should You Use Natural Oils or Petroleum Jelly?
While many dermatologists recommend petroleum-based skin products, many studies show that there are better alternatives available. Doubt has been cast on the safety of petroleum jelly for your skin and there are concerns about its effect on the body.
Many scientifically-based studies have shown that oils like coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, almond oil, jojoba oil, and avocado oil are far superior to petroleum jelly. Many natural oils provide the same skin protection as petroleum jelly, but they do far more. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties and provide many vitamins that are essential for healthy, blemish-free skin.