The Truth About: Petroleum Jelly / Vaseline (And Why It’s Not A Beauty Product)

Back in the late 90’s Vaseline became the unexpected product of choice for women around the UK; although it wasn’t exactly glamorous to carry around, the larger the tub the better. My memories of high school involve applying this gloopy transparent gel to lips at any given opportunity, both for the lubrication and the delicate gloss it provided – at a school where no makeup was permitted, Vaseline provided the only minor rebellion we could muster. However, this seemingly harmless product (often used as a moisturiser, intense treatment, lubricant and even makeup remover *faints*) actually shouldn’t be used as a beauty product at all; it’s very nature prevents moisture from being absorbed into the skin, leaving you much worse of than when you started. So why should you avoid slapping on the petroleum jelly and where did this misunderstanding all begin?

The raw material for petroleum jelly was discovered in 1859, in the state of Pennsylvania, on some of the country’s first oil rigs. Workers disliked the greasy material forming on rigs as a bi-product of the extraction process because it caused their machines to malfunction, but they started to use it on cuts and burns because they believed it hastened healing. As a result, Vaseline was originally promoted as an ointment for scrapes, burns and cuts – it became an essential in any household first aid box or medicine cabinet. Not only was it included in World War II survival kits, but it was also used as a sunscreen as it was believed it provided protection against the sun’s rays.

However, studies have since shown that Vaseline offers no medicinal benefit, nor is it absorbed by the skin. Petroleum jelly’s effectiveness in accelerating wound healing stems from its ‘sealing effect’ on cuts and burns, which inhibits germs from getting into the wound; it also keeps the area supple by preventing the skin’s moisture from evaporating. In simple terms: Vaseline does in no way hydrate, nor does it attract moisture. When used excessively it actually prevents the skin from absorbing moisture from the environment, which (over a longer period of time) causes skin to become dull and dehydrated. It’s much like locking yourself away in a windowless room for a month and wondering why your skin is pale, vitamin starved and in need of a serious moisture injection.

Vaseline should not be used to hydrate the skin, treat wounds or accelerate healing – and it certainly shouldn’t be used to remove makeup or as a face treatment. Not only is this unsustainable resource damaging to the environment (it’s a bi-product of oil extraction,) but it can also disrupt the bodies process of elimination of toxins through the pores, potentially trapping them under the skin. It’s also been discussed that petroleum jelly slows cellular regeneration, which can damage collagen, elastin and connective tissue, contributing to the appearance of aging. It’s also water-repellant and not water-soluble, making it difficult to cleanse from the skin; this means it could be sitting on the surface and blocking your pores for days to come.

There’s no doubt it has useful features and remains a firm favourite with sports enthusiasts, but when used in excess for beauty purposes it’s only going to cause more problems than it actually solves. However, here are eight ways you can actually use Vaseline without worrying about the side effects…

1. MANICURE HERO: Put a little Vaseline under the cap of your nail polish bottles to prevent crunchy residue, so you don’t struggle opening them mid-mani.
2. LIPSTICK PRO: Apply a little to your teeth before adding lipstick, ensuring you’ll never get lipstick teeth or a sticky smile again.
3. TAN-TASTIC: Rub a small amount onto the backs of ankles, knees and hands to stop those telltale tan lines and excessively dark patches forming.
4. HEAVEN SCENTED: Maintain your perfume scent all day long, by rubbing a little Vaseline onto your wrists and neck before you spritz. It prevents the skin from absorbing your fragrance.
5. REFUSE TO SPLIT: Beat split ends between trims by rubbing a (very small) amount of Vaseline between your fingers, touching up frizz and damage – albeit temporarily.
6. STAIN NO MORE: Prevent those embarrassing hair dye stains on your forehead by softly dabbing all over your hairline. Just wash away using an effective cleanser afterwards. 
7. SLIP & SLIDE: Do you ever struggle putting in your earrings? Use a little Vaseline on the stem and they should slide right in!
8. JUST BLUSH: Vamp up your eyeshadow or blush and turn them into creams using some Vaseline; mix in the palm of your hands and apply sparingly.

Do you use Vaseline as a lip balm, beauty product or treatment? Are you ditching the petroleum jelly now in favour of a much more targeted and effective alternative?

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  1. Desiree
    August 12, 2015 / 3:15 pm

    Wow! So informative! I didn't know any of that information. I use Petroleum Jelly all the time instead of Chapstick! I guess that will change now!

  2. Music and Eyeliner
    August 12, 2015 / 3:15 pm

    Yes Hayley! I've always avoided using Vaseline for anything other than hair-dying stain prevention. I've never liked it as a lip balm (and understand why now). I remember friends using it as 'eyeshadow' (in the 90's when the sheeny lid trend happened, ugh! Ha).Faith xMusic and Eyeliner

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:27 pm

      Eugh, greasy lids..!

  3. Anonymous
    August 12, 2015 / 3:21 pm

    I use Vaseline to keep my eyebrows under control; a quick dab keeps them in place all day 🙂 I've never used it as a lip balm because it always made my lips drier than they were before – now I know why!Hollywood stars used to use it on their eyelids to give them a bit of ooomph before eye shadow became commonplace.

  4. Anonymous
    August 12, 2015 / 3:22 pm

    Wow! I always used vaseline when my lips are dry. Think that will be going out of the window! Have some great nourishing lip balms – especially from The Body Shop – that are going to be coming into play a lot more then! Thanks for a great post and spreading a little light on something I had no idea about!

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:28 pm

      I think a lot of people reach for it and wonder why it makes it worse… It's not a hydrating product at all, which is where it goes a little wrong.

  5. Lucy L.
    August 12, 2015 / 3:50 pm

    The trouble is, this thing is cheap, and to get a natural alternative at the same price, it's not impossible, but it's not nearly as accessible. I swapped out my Vaseline for Egyptian Magic and haven't looked back since. But, we're looking at up of £25.00 a jar here. For those that want a cheaper alternative, I'd absolutely recommend Papaya Gold PAW PAW Ointment. It's not nearly as sticky or shiny, but it's perfect for eyebrow taming.

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:29 pm

      You don't need a natural alternative – just something that's not full of petroleum jelly. There are great balms and ointments that do the job so much better. Herbfarmacy are great and totally affordable.

  6. TR's Thoughts
    August 12, 2015 / 4:45 pm

    I don't really use Vaseline but it was great to read about the history of a product that's a staple in so many people's homes/makeup kit! xTR's Thoughts

  7. Pam Scalfi
    August 12, 2015 / 4:52 pm

    I did not know any of this! Wow! Thankfully I stopped using it years ago. I much prefer other lip balms.Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

  8. emmalcm
    August 12, 2015 / 9:44 pm

    Interesting post! I knew that it didn't do anything for my lips and felt more like a seal than a moisturser. I too used it as a teen but quickly learned that it did precisely nothing except give a slight shine. Em x

  9. Katy Standen
    August 12, 2015 / 10:22 pm

    I can remember my friends and I putting this on our eyelashes in the believe it would make them grow longer, after reading this I can't see where the logic in that is at all now. The things we did in the 90's are so funny now when you look back.

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:31 pm

      I think a lot of this stuff starts of with magazines trying to fill pages and then gains momentum! How on earth anyone would think it would grow lashes is beyond me, lolz x

  10. Holly Olivia
    August 12, 2015 / 11:08 pm

    I've never got into using vaseline, hurts bees mango lip butter has always been my saviour when my lips are in need of moisture, but some of the things you can do with vaseline sound interesting. I might have to try a few!

  11. Laura C
    August 13, 2015 / 6:58 am

    I really didn't know that! I tend to use vaseline on my lashes or as a protective barrier against the elements rather than as a moisturiser, couldn't be without a pot but great to learn more about it! xLaura | Loved By Laura

  12. Natalie Ann
    August 13, 2015 / 9:37 am

    I used to love Vaseline when I was a teenager but I have to admit that I did go off it so I haven't used it in years in favour of other lip balms. After reading this I'm glad I made the the swap!Natalie Ann xo // Petal Poppet Blogs ♥

  13. Rachel
    August 13, 2015 / 11:20 am

    I knew that Vaseline was essentially useless as a moisturiser but had no idea of its impact on the environment. Now it seems quite obvious, as I think about it. Quite a shock!Rachel |

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:32 pm

      I mean, obviously they're not drilling for Vaseline – but it doesn't help!

  14. sampan_27
    August 13, 2015 / 11:58 am

    Ooh I think I am going to re-think my use of vaseline! 🙂

  15. Secret Style File
    August 13, 2015 / 12:13 pm

    Vaseline was always my answer to everything! I started to realise and hear stories like this so stopped but infact I think it is too late. I was obsessed with applying vaseline to my lips like every hour at school and now my lips always feel 'thirsty' if I don't have lipstick or lip balm on them! It's so addictive though, I do like the other uses for vaseline you have provided though! xx

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:32 pm

      Try to detox. Your lips will self lubricate if given a chance, so only apply balm a couple times a day.

  16. Katie Lou
    August 13, 2015 / 6:33 pm

    I never knew this! Thanks for the tips KatieLou

  17. Lily Lipstick
    August 13, 2015 / 7:31 pm

    It always freaks me out when it's described as "petroleum jelly"! I only use Vaseline on my feet to prevent blisters before I go for a run and it definitely works! xLilyLipstick

  18. Sam
    August 15, 2015 / 1:00 pm

    I never really got how a bi-products of oil could be a beauty product. Like many others I have applied Vaseline to my lips but found that it did nothing in terms of hydration. I just use it as a dye block now which it works perfectly for. Great post. =^-^=Sam | Momentarily Dreaming

  19. Soléna Camby
    August 18, 2015 / 12:30 pm

    That's good to know. I always used to use the cocoa version of the lippy thing but noticed that my lips kept being chapped no matter how often I would use the thing. I KNEW SOMETHING WAS UP WITH VASELINE ! 😛

  20. Amba Morris
    August 18, 2015 / 2:31 pm

    I stopped using 5 years ago when I heard it did more harm then good. Great article and in treating to find it origins ew yuk x

  21. Cheryl Wooodman
    August 18, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    I do find it funny that there is a whole brand based around Vaseline, i mean it is great at stopping water from leaving skin (thats 1 out of the 3 ways you can moisturise), but as you say, it doesnt add anything TO the skin. I like to think of it like a skin raincoat!

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:33 pm

      A skin raincoat! I love that…

  22. Melissa Jane Lee
    August 18, 2015 / 6:08 pm

    Very strange timing on this post – only last night the dermatologist who prescribed me accutane recommended I use Vaseline for dry lips. I jumped a little at the suggestion as something in my memory told me this was not a good idea. I see why now and won't be using it. Thanks for the informative post. Those tips are amazing! I will definitely be using these, thank you

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:33 pm

      I'm horrified that a dermatologist recommended it! Wowzer!

  23. Petra Kravos
    August 19, 2015 / 7:20 am

    What a fantastic post! I knew Vaseline wasn't good for skin and here you explain really well why. Interestingly it can be still used for lots of other purposes.. do you think there are some natural products out there which could do the same job?

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:34 pm

      Yeah absolutely – Herbfarmcy is a great brand that's 100% natural, organic and home grown. Their lip balms totally save my lips when they're in a bad way.

    • Petra Kravos
      August 23, 2015 / 7:58 pm

      Thanks Hayley. I've heard of Herbfarmacy before but I haven't bought any of their products yet. Need to get some of their samples and see how I get on.. They sound like a great brand.

  24. Jessica Grace
    August 20, 2015 / 10:39 am

    This is such an informative post, thank you for sharing it! I only ever use it on my lips and sometimes to make my perfume last longer too (a tip I often shared with women when I worked in superdrug!) but now that I know all of this, I know now to definitely give it a miss on my skin!Jessica Grace

  25. Tas D
    August 22, 2015 / 9:19 am

    Woah I went through an entire phase of slathering it on my face as a way to hydrate my skin! I do still use it if I'm dying my hair but will definitely not use it on my face again.

  26. Aimee Evans
    August 23, 2015 / 11:41 am

    This post is amazing and SO helpful! I've always used Vaseline and used to use it to remove eye makeup as it is oil based, after reading this I will make sure not to use it like that on my skin again! Thanks for the useful ways to use Vaseline though as I am sure I am not the only one with more than a few tins to use! 🙂 x

  27. Sammi Penni
    August 23, 2015 / 2:16 pm

    Wait, so I don't understand why using it as makeup remover is bad if your skin can't absorb it anyway. Would you mind elaborating, please? I'm confused!

    • Hayley Carr
      August 23, 2015 / 7:35 pm

      All it's going to do is remove surface makeup; it's not going to remove any impurities or dirt from skin, while residue will trap the grime in and potentially cause breakouts. Worse than a face wipe!

  28. Caroline Radway
    August 26, 2015 / 3:10 pm

    I've only recently discovered this being a long-term Vaseline user for lips and make up removal!! Gahh!! Luckily discovered Arbonne who have educated me and no mineral oil in anything – hopefully in time to reverse the damage! Their new intelligence lip cream is a far better alternative and plumps too, got mine a month early on pre-order & love it – no more vaseline (except for pre brow tinting!)

  29. Lubka Henry
    September 11, 2015 / 1:46 pm

    You just killed it for me :(I almost feel as I did when I found santa wasn't real.Seriously? It's not a lip balm?!

  30. Kathy Joan
    May 19, 2016 / 9:22 pm

    Wow I had no idea of this! Very helpful post Hayley!

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