Petroleum Jelly Beauty Myths and Benefits

jar of petroleum jelly
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Petroleum jelly skin care and beauty usage ideas abound. It’s been used for almost everything — it keeps nail polish off of the skin during manicures, protects the hairline and ears from hair dye, tames unruly eyebrows, serves as a lip balm, protects lips and hands from chapping, moisturizes cuticles, softens rough heels and elbows. But is it all it's cracked up to be? Here are some facts to clear up the myths about using petroleum jelly for beauty purposes.

Does Petroleum Jelly Clog Pores?

While it has been used to protect the lips and cheeks from windburn in seriously cold weather or on the slopes, some feel it’s not a wise idea to use it as a moisturizer on the entire face, as it is believed that it can clog the pores, but petroleum jelly (also known as petrolatum) is actually classified as non-comedogenic. Comedogenic is a term used by the FDA to describe cosmetics that cause comedones, usually referred to as blackheads or whiteheads.

According to some skin care professionals, petrolatum and mineral oil (the clear, odorless oil derived from petroleum) can sometimes induce acne. While studies have shown that industrial grade mineral oil may be comedogenic, cosmetic-grade is not. Petroleum jelly has been considered bad for acne-prone skin because of its greasiness, but there aren’t any definitive studies proving that it clogs the pores and causes breakouts. Still, those with acne and prone to flare-ups are often advised to avoid heavily petroleum-based moisturizers.

Others believe that as a sealant, petroleum jelly can prevent the skin from releasing toxins, sweat, and sebum. If this happens, the skin can’t breathe or eliminate toxins, thereby blocking pores and causing breakouts. In the final analysis, it seems to depend on the individual.

Dry Skin Treatment

Many dermatologists recommend the use of petroleum jelly for extremely dry skin conditions. Petroleum jelly is considered an emollient and occlusive ointment that softens and smoothes skin, helps it replace oils and prevents transdermal water loss (TEWL) from the skin, so it’s ideal for dry skin. It is often described as a “skin protectant” in the cosmetics industry, and as a sealant, it traps moisture inside the skin.

In her book, "Beautiful Skin of Color," Dr. Jeanine Downie suggests using Vaseline Petroleum Jelly on extra dry elbows and knees at night, as a protective coating to seal up your skins’ own moisture.

According to information on the Vaseline website, Vaseline Petroleum Jelly is a mixture of mineral oil, paraffin and microcrystalline waxes that are blended together to create a smooth filling that has a melting point just above body temperature. It melts into the skin, flowing into spaces between cells and the gaps in the skin’s lipid barrier.

Once there the petroleum jelly re-solidifies acting as a sealant, forming an occlusive barrier to natural water loss on our skin. This also keeps the effects of weather and exposure to outside contaminants out. Skin that is dry and chapped is protected from the drying effects of harsh weather. Moisture is then enabled to build up naturally from inside the skin itself.

Eczema Relief

Petrolatum can be found in products that are recommended by dermatologists for eczema sufferers. In fact, some people with eczema have found that other products can contribute to the pain of severely dry, itchy skin, and petroleum jelly applied on dry patches at night is effective to reduce dryness without adding to the discomfort. Petroleum jelly is also fragrance-free and less likely to cause more irritation. The National Eczema Association recommends using it as a moisturizer for hand eczema.

Since petroleum jelly is greasy, it's not typically used as a moisturizer but is often used on extremely dry spots when regular moisturizers are not enough. Here are two simple treatments for areas that tend to become dry and rough.

Dry Knees and Elbows

Since petroleum jelly is very greasy, after applying Vaseline to the knees and elbows, here is Dr. Downie’s method to protect clothing and bedding: Cut the toes out of a couple of pairs of tube socks, then pull the socks over the knees and elbows. Dr. Downie recommends doing this once or twice a week during winter months when the skin tends to get very dry and itchy.

Dry Hands and Feet

Celebrity aesthetician Scott-Vincent Borba recommends the following at-home paraffin treatment. Use a nickel size dollop of Vaseline and olive oil (or shea butter) and apply to hands and feet. Next, wrap cling wrap to treated areas and cover with clean, dry cotton socks to lock in deep moisture.

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