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Benefits and Uses of Petroleum Jelly

14 July 2022

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How often do you think about petroleum jelly? It’s very useful. Odds are great that you’ve got a little tub or two in your medicine cabinet. Maybe you search for it when you’ve got flaky elbows or your baby has a rash.  

Petroleum jelly is sold under several brand names and generics, the best-known of which is Vaseline. Its main ingredient is indeed petroleum. Petroleum jelly is a byproduct of the oil industry, specifically a derivative of the refinement process. 

It’s been around, in one form or another, for centuries. In the 1200s, Marco Polo (the person, not the pool game) described the exportation of oil from Azerbaijan by hundreds of camels and ships. He found a precursor to petroleum jelly, which people were burning and using as an ointment to treat mange. (Turns out, if your pet has mange, a thick layer of petroleum jelly will smother the bugs that cause it. We recommend calling your vet, too, though.) 

Native Americans had also constructed complex oil pits in Western Pennsylvania and other areas. Here, too, petroleum jelly was being used as a salve for skin ailments. Later, in the mid-1850s, workers operating some of the first oil rigs in America noticed a waxy substance forming on rigs as they repaired malfunctions. Oil rig workers used the jelly on cuts and burns.  

Enter Robert Chesebrough. His previous job (distilling fuel from the oil of sperm whales) was made obsolete thanks to the burgeoning petroleum industry. He took the oily, waxy substance back to his laboratory and distilled it into a light-colored gel, a process he patented. He opened a factory in Brooklyn and named his miracle cure Vaseline.  

There are MANY uses for purified petroleum jelly. It’s an effective moisturizer and works by serving as a physical barrier on the surface of the skin, trapping moisture. It’s thick and heavy, though, so may cause breakouts on acne-prone skin. It can also stain clothing, so proceed with caution.

More uses for petroleum jelly:

Eye makeup remover. Waterproof mascara and eyelash glue don’t stand a chance against a dollop of petroleum jelly. Gently massage it onto your eyelids and use a cotton pad or tissue to wipe it away. Follow up with cleanser to remove possible pore-clogging residue.

Fly-away tamer. Rub a TINY dab of petroleum jelly between your palms and smooth down flyway hairs. Minimize the frizz of split ends, add shine and moisturize your hair by rubbing a little into the ends of your hair. Key words: a little.

Turn powders into creams. Looking at a pan of powdered eye shadow wishing for a deeper color and richer consistency? Scoop out a few crumbles and, using a makeup brush, mix them with some petroleum jelly. Voila! Your powder is transformed.

Highlighter. Glowy, dewy skin is all the rage. No need to buy an expensive tube of highlighter, though, just smooth a little petroleum jelly onto the high points of your face: cheekbones, cupid’s bow, and arches of the eyebrow. 

Repair cracked skin. Heels, elbows and cuticles rejoice. Smooth petroleum jelly onto dry skin as you would a lotion or balm. As an extra treat for desert-dry feet, top a nice thick layer of petroleum jelly with clean cotton socks and hop in bed. Overnight, your feet will go from cracked and dry to baby soft. 

Make perfume last longer. Moisturized skin holds scent better than dry skin. Rub a smidge of petroleum jelly onto your pulse points before you dab or spritz your scent and it’ll last much longer.

Lash enhancer. If you’ve got naturally long lashes and prefer a subtle look, a light coat of petroleum jelly will add gloss and definition. It will also condition and protect lashes, helping them grow faster.

Speed healing. For minor scrapes and abrasions, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly over a minor would, after thoroughly cleansing it. Keeping a wound moist will keep it from forming a scab, which takes longer to heal and is more likely to leave a scar. The layer of moisture will also keep a healing wound from itching.

Reduce chafing. Thighs, nipples or underarms chafe when you run or exercise? Chafing happens because of friction, which occurs when skin rubs against skin or clothing. It’s worse during exercise because we sweat, and perspiration contains salt, which stings abraded skin. A layer of petroleum jelly before chafing even starts will lessen friction and help you stay chafe-free.

Lip balm. Stash a small tub of petroleum jelly in your pocket. Because pure petroleum jelly is an occlusive moisturizer, a light layer will lock in moisture while adding shine. 

Guard against skin stains. A light coat of petroleum jelly around the hairline during a root touch-up will prevent errant drips of hair color from adhering to, and therefore staining, the skin. Same goes for cuticles. Easily wipe away nail polish dribbles by first coating cuticles with petroleum jelly. The polish won’t adhere to the jelly and can easily be wiped away.

Skin scrub. Mix sugar (or salt) and petroleum jelly into a paste and use it for an all-over exfoliant and moisturizing scrub. Want to take it up a notch? Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Lavender or mint are terrific choices.

New tattoos. Top a brand-new work of body art with a layer of petroleum jelly to keep it moist and promote healing.

Eczema. The National Eczema Association tells us that petroleum jelly, specifically Vaseline Jelly Original, is suitable for use by eczema sufferers. Using petroleum jelly on eczema-irritated skin will combat dry skin and create a barrier between eczema prone skin and environmental irritants. It can also be used after applying topical medications and will seal them in, helping them be more effective.

Diaper rash. Applying a layer of petroleum jelly after a diaper change and cleaning can prevent and treat chafed skin from diaper rash.

Petroleum jelly is well tolerated by most people and can be used in myriad ways. People who’d rather not use a treatment that’s also a byproduct of the petroleum industry could try Waxeline, made from soy oil, beeswax, rosemary oil and vitamin E; Alba Un Petroleum, which is a jelly containing coconut oil or Jao Brand Goe Oil, which looks and feel similar to petroleum jelly but smells terrific with a nice dose of plant oils and butters.



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