What Is Petroleum Jelly?
Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, is a topical agent with a wide range of uses. It can be used as a medical ointment, moisturizer, patch test instrument and wound care essential.1 Petroleum jelly’s versatility and dermatological benefits have made it a staple in most household’s medicine cabinets.2 However, there are limits to its use. Learn about petroleum jelly, its ingredients and how petroleum jelly can be used to help heal your skin.
What Is Petroleum Jelly Made Of?
Petroleum jelly is a waxy, odorless and translucent substance made of hydrocarbons.3 Manufacturers create petroleum jelly with leftover petroleum material in oil and gas production.3 After manufacturers distill and refine the leftover material, it becomes petrolatum—an odorless and gelatinous topical agent.3
Petrolatum’s popularity in households ballooned in the late 1800’s. A nascent North American oil industry and Robert Chesbrough, a chemist, contributed to its popularization. Chesbrough’s contributions improved the effectiveness of petrolatum’s distillation and refining process.3
How Can You Use Petroleum Jelly?
Petroleum jelly is a versatile product that has medical and cosmetic uses. It’s great for moisturizing, healing wounds, serving as a barrier and more. Its uses include the following:
Medical Uses of Petroleum Jelly
- Help heal wounds: Petrolatum can be applied to minor wounds—like cuts, scrapes and scratches—to keep the wound moist.2 When a wound forms a scab, it takes more time and energy to heal.2 Consistent moisture prevents the wound from drying out, developing a large scar or becoming itchy at the site.2
- Alleviate chafing: Chafing is a skin condition that happens when your skin rubs against clothing or materials, or when an individual has repeated skin-on-skin contact. Exercise, tight fitting clothes and hot weather can cause this condition.4 Chafing can cause blister formation. However, petrolatum application can help prevent blisters.2 You can apply petrolatum to areas you notice chafing—like your thighs, groin and armpits.
- Prevent chapped lips: Sun damage, dry, cold weather and frequently licking your lips can cause dry and chapped lips.5 To combat dry lips, dermatologists recommend products that contain petrolatum and white petroleum jelly to help them heal.5 Petroleum jelly serves as a barrier to prevent transdermal moisture loss, so your skin can stay hydrated.3 To help prevent dry and chapped lips, try ChapStick’s Active 2 in 1. It contains petroleum jelly and locks in moisture with nourishing shea butter, aloe and vitamin E. It creates a physical barrier to moisturize and protect your lips from the sun.
- Moisturize dry skin: To relieve dry skin, you need to moisturize.6 Thicker moisturizers like oils and petrolatum-based products can help very dry skin.6 Petrolatum may feel greasy. In this case, you can just use it at bedtime.6 However, if you are acne prone, you may want to avoid using petroleum jelly on your skin.6
- Treat diaper rash and newborn eczema: Petroleum jelly can be applied during diaper changes if your baby frequently gets diaper rashes. It should help the rash disappear within three to four days.3 Diaper rash is a type of dermatitis that forms as patches of inflamed skin.7 Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is also a type of dermatitis newborns may deal with. Petroleum jelly is also beneficial to help newborns dealing with eczema.6
- Protect nails: Petrolatum can be used to rehydrate your nails.3 If you frequently get manicures and pedicures, you can apply petroleum jelly in between appointments.3 Place the ointment over your cuticles and nails.3 It will help maintain their strength and prevent chipping.3 Wash your hands before use. It’s best to apply the petroleum jelly when your nails are damp.3
Cosmetic Uses of Petroleum Jelly
- Serves as an occlusive: An occlusive creates a physical barrier on the skin to keep it moist and hydrated. Physically, these ingredients are heavy, greasy and sticky. Petroleum jelly serves as an occlusive to maintain moisture. With its application, the barrier helps your skin look soft and supple.8
- Serves as an emollient: Emollients help to soften and smoothen skin.8 Emollients are soft, silky and light on your skin.8 Emollients are often found in oils like palm and coconut oil.8 They fill the spaces between our skin cells, improve our skin barrier and enhance membrane fluidity.8 Petroleum jelly serves as an occlusive and emollient.3
Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, is a topical agent with many applications and benefits to help moisturize, heal and protect your skin. It can be used for newborns, adults, athletes and whomever may need its cosmetic and medical benefits. It is great for alleviating dry skin and helping chapped lips. Pick out a ChapStick lip balm you like, so you can moisturize and prevent chapped lips.