FAN MAIL FRIDAYS: Is Petroleum Jelly really unsafe?

Just wanna share, I read this query via email right when I was applying Coco Island Pawpaw Balm on my lips. Talk about perfect timing! :D

Hi The Beauty Junkee! 
Just want to ask if Petroleum Jelly is really safe. I use it to alleviate my 1 year old son's diaper rash because by far, it's the most effective on him, but as a mother, I'm just worried that it might affect him in the long run. I have long been using it myself to remedy chapped lips and skin and I'm worried about the same thing for my own health too. What do you think? Tried researching about it online, but never really found sufficient answers. Hope you can help me on this! 

Kisses and hugs,

The Strict But Sweet Mom

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Hi The Strict But Sweet Mom!

Hope you don't mind if I discuss Petroleum Jelly for a bit in here.

Petroleum Jelly has been around for at least a hundred years and has been valued so much for a myriad of uses for the skin and even around the house. It was once used as a sunscreen agent (Red Vet Jelly). Also, it was believed to help lashes grow and even heal burns and wounds, although recent studies have proven that Petroleum Jelly doesn't really promote hair growth and can only protect (not heal) traumatized skin.

Petroleum Jelly is a byproduct of crude oil and was discovered sometime in the late 1800's in oil rigs. Miners have discovered a thick, creamy oil-like substance that accumulates (and oftentimes block) the holes of the rigs and they've kinda' experimented with it and used it to cover cuts and burns, and they claimed that it actually helped heal them. Robert Chesebrough (the man behind Vaseline) was probably the first one to have done an extensive research on Petroleum Jelly (its uses, processing, toxicity, safety, and all) and in 1872, he patented the vacuum distillation process for Petroleum Jelly and yes, it's Vaseline. Vaseline, until now, is still considered as one of the safest Petroleum Jelly brands out there with a hazard rating of 0, as per the Environmental Working Group. (Disclaimer: I am not paid by Vaseline to say this)

White Petroleum Jelly is the highest quality PJ out there. (If you're going to buy Petroleum Jelly, make sure it says White Petroleum, USP or USP White Petroleum) It's highly purified to remove all carcinogenic substances and have passed global FDA standards. However, there are certain Petroleum Jelly brands that do not follow these purification standards strictly and their products have been found to contain significant residues of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), carcinogenic substances that have been 'linked to breast cancer'. I believe this is where the battle against Petroleum Jelly started. And as if PAHs aren't enough-Lipid Pneumonia was also said to be a cause of Petroleum Jelly usage.

But should you be deathly worried about these?

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Ignorance can kill. I just loathe at all the misinformed articles about Petroleum Jelly, especially when the article starts promoting all-natural products after scaring people. (Dial 123-Marketing) I believe that the information about White Petroleum Jelly has been around for a long, long time now, but it's sad that there are people who put aside FACTS for beliefs. Adulterated Petroleum Jelly is a fault of the industry, but guess what? Every industry has one and it's unfair to generalize.

So let's get down to business.

'PAHs have been linked to breast cancer.' To be "linked" doesn't mean that it's proven already. I just think it's a more academic way to say "I (we) THINK". It's a hypothesis. Besides, I have never heard or read any news about a person who died from Petroleum Jelly usage.

Lipid Pneumonia is caused by "Fat Inhalation" when someone ingests Petroleum Jelly because it is insoluble in water. I suppose no one is in their right mind when they swallow Petroleum Jelly because clearly, this is cosmetic and it should not in any way come into contact with mucous membranes. Petroleum Jelly should never be used as a lubricant, inside the nose and mouth, and on fresh, deep wounds. On the lips, it should be applied sparingly to avoid accidental ingestion.

Like all beauty products, one can also develop negative skin reactions from it such as rashes, swelling, and redness, especially on sensitive skin. Excessive usage can also lead to tenderness and sensitivity of the skin. Certain Petroleum Jelly brands include fragrance in the formulation to make usage a little pleasing, but to me, it's always better to go for the unscented one. Regarding frequency of usage, I believe we are all aware that too much of something is not a good thing so use Petroleum Jelly only when you have to.

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White Petroleum Jelly is deemed SAFE as a household remedy. It can actually retain whatever moisture that's left on the skin so it won't deteriorate. However, it's not really a hydrating product but more of a lubricant. That said, it's best to apply your regular moisturizer first then seal with Petroleum Jelly to inhibit moisture loss. It is also EXTREMELY helpful for compromised skin, specifically those suffering from eczema because aside from creating a barrier against bacterial infection, again, it helps prevent moisture from evaporating. It's also widely used against diaper rash, where the skin of the infant becomes irritated and dry. Petroleum Jelly will help soothe rashes and eradicate the need for scratching. But since I mentioned that one may develop rashes from Petroleum Jelly usage, it's best to stop if you've observed that the rashes are getting worse. You mentioned that your baby's skin seem to be okay with it so I guess it's safe to continue, unless you start to see unfavorable changes.

I guess your subliminal concern, The Strict But Sweet Mom, is that Petroleum Jelly may find its way inside your baby from the pores. Fear not, because its molecules are way too big to be absorbed by the pores. It just stays on top of the skin-that's it!

So there! That was a lengthy post, but I hope you guys liked it. In sum, I believe that Petroleum Jelly is safe. My family and I have been using it for years now and so far, we're still alive and kicking. We love it because it's cheap and it works. :) You still have to take precautions though when choosing a Petroleum Jelly product like buying from a reputable brand and using it with common sense. ;)

**Thanks to my dermatologist friends who helped me come up with this post!

**Got a burning question about makeups, skin care products, beauty, dieting, and health tips, relationships, and whatever? Just send them to or shoot 'em up at The Beauty Junkee's FB Fan Page via the MESSAGE button and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. (Please, do not send me Math- related queries. :D)

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12 Lovely Thoughts

  1. Thank you for this article, Martha! Last year I suffered from really chapped lips. I tried several lip balms but nothing seemed to work. Didn't want to use petroleum jelly because of all the negative things I've heard about it, but my friends persuaded me to try it. It's the only thing I use now because it really works for me.


  2. Thanks for the info Ms. M, I am not an avid user of Petroleum Jelly but it's nice to know its uses and what its side effects might be. It's better to be informed, and to be safe than sorry.

  3. this is a very informative post! I learn a lot from your blog Miss Martha! :)

  4. Very informative Ms. Martha! Thanks for the info. I learned a lot in this. :) I use petroleum jelly on my eczema. Good thing I was doing it right because my derma did not advise me that I could put petroleum jelly after my lotion. I just did it on my own because the lotion is not enough to tame my eczema. :) Thanks thanks! :)

  5. Amen to that! I found petroleum jelly to be the only thing that would soothe my chapped, blistered lips when it got so bad from taking isotretinoin/accutane, since it wasn't mentholated and it's really cheap. :) The good news is that Vaseline now sells it in tubes, which is more sanitary since you don't have to dip your fingers in it. :D

  6. very true! I'm using it on my two kids and for my dry lips.....super effective and affordable....

  7. I also hate those websites that discredit products/procedures that are considered safe as based on available evidenceand promote something natural/organic and say that it's safe even if there's no evidence to back up their claims! Anyway, I would just like to add that pediatricians advise the use of PJ and not baby powder in preventing diaper rash because not only is it more effective, it's also safer because the latter could be inhaled by the baby and may cause respiratory problems.

  8. I also hate those websites that discredit products/procedures that are considered safe as based on available evidenceand promote something natural/organic and say that it's safe even if there's no evidence to back up their claims! Anyway, I would just like to add that pediatricians advise the use of PJ and not baby powder in preventing diaper rash because not only is it more effective, it's also safer because the latter could be inhaled by the baby and may cause respiratory problems.

  9. I used to use petroleum jelly on my lips because of my uber chapped lips. Yes, it does hold in moisture but it doesn't even heal my lips. I switched to a lip balm that contains Jojoba oil and it works wonders on my lips. I use it every night before I sleep and upon waking up, my lips have been restored. Crazy but true. ;)

  10. When scientists say that a specific substance is linked to a disease, it means that the study they conducted is correlational, as opposed to experimental (causational) studies which directly reveals that that specific substance directly causes a disease. So when they say that PHAs are linked to breast cancer, it doesn't mean that they have proven PHAs cause breast cancer. Nor does it mean they have completely disproved it. It's possible that they cannot establish the direct relationship between PHAs and breast cancer simply because conditions cannot be manipulated in an experiment such that the direct causes and effects between PHA and breast cancer can be established. Usually it takes years of longitudinal studies before correlational studies are proven to indeed be causational. Take the case, for example, of cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Cigarette smoking was only thought to be linked to lung cancer. It was only until the late 1990s that it was acknowledged as a direct cause, after scientists noticed that people who smoked are more likely to have lung cancer in the future.

    I would suggest that people remain wary of using PHAs, or any substances that are currently "linked" to a disease. Just because we don't see the effects now doesn't mean there won't be any in the future. Sometimes science just has its limitations too.

  11. I went for years without using products with mineral oil or petroleum jelly because of the health concerns I kept reading about. Then I realized the bashing was simply propaganda. The chem companies say all-natural may not be proven effective, while the all-natural businesses keep bashing the chem ones. At the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to consumer intuition and research.

  12. Anonymous: Hey stephie, thanks for the insight. I use petroleum jelly when I get cold sores on the lips-works better than lip balm, imo. :)

    Matromao: Yep. My marketing knowledge also comes handy when it comes to buying beauty products. :)

    Claire: Hey there, thank you for the insight. I learned something new today as well. I guess at the end of the day, just go for something that doesn't irritate or cause you to break out. :)

    Ria: Hi Ria! Thank you for the visit and for the additional knowledge you have imparted. :)

    April: I have that Vaseline tube too! In fact, I always have it in my bag. :)


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