Is Vaseline Petroleum Jelly?

In this blog, we're going to answer a few questions about Vaseline. For example, are petroleum and petrolatum the same thing? Do they truly come from oil refineries? Are they toxic to put on our skin?


We need to talk about what this ingredient is, why it's in skincare, and most importantly, where and how it was discovered. Originally, it was a byproduct of the oil industry. But, people found a way to reuse and replace it.


Now, here's the question. Does that make it toxic or bad? Let's talk about all of this and dive into the differences between petroleum and petrolatum jelly.


Where does Vaseline come from?

Petrolatum jelly originally came from something called “rod wax.” “Rod wax” was a byproduct of oil drilling that workers used to heal wounds and burns. Rod wax was the residue left on the machines. Noticing its benefits, chemist, Robert Chesebrough, refined and purified the “rod wax,” and in 1872 he marketed it as Vaseline.

Today, manufacturers make petroleum jelly from the leftover petroleum material from oil and gas production. Manufacturers refine it to create petroleum jelly and to filter out any undesirable impurities. It goes through distillation processes at high temperatures to burn off the gasoline and kerosene. Then, it goes through a process of de-asphalting, removing any remaining waxes or oils. Today, Vaseline is not cruelty-free, but the raw ingredient is technically a natural substance, and it's inexpensive even though it's used in $400 products like La Mer!


What's the difference between petroleum and petrolatum?

Petroleum is a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons that is present in certain rocks. It can be extracted and refined to produce fuels including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil. When petroleum is refined to create these things, petrolatum is a byproduct of this process. To create the jelly used for skin though, petrolatum has to be distilled and refined to get that white, translucent color.


Is Vaseline safe?

Vaseline is not toxic, and some people have actually eaten it. Vaseline is also unlikely to trigger allergies as well. Many people say it's banned in Europe, but petrolatum is only banned when the refining history comes into question. If the full refining history cannot be determined, it is banned. There are also certain contaminants, like carcinogens, that the European Union won't allow in petrolatum products.


Does Vaseline clog pores?

Vaseline does not universally clog pores. If that were the case, every single person who used it would get clogged pores. Petrolatum was originally reported to be mildly comedogenic. However, in another study, there was an improvement of acne papules with petrolatum use. So, for some people, it causes pimples and for others, it takes it away.


What is Vaseline good for?

It's great at preventing transepidermal water loss. It prevents water loss from the skin, meaning it can trap moisture, help with wound healing, and it can support a healthy skin barrier. That's why doctors and derms love Vaseline or petrolatum jelly for people with eczema and psoriasis. It may not work for everyone, but it does work well for some people. There are still some people who have reservations about its “cleanliness” as well.


Because of this, people try to go for “natural” skincare because they believe it to be “clean,” but the truth is, most natural things like petrolatum have to be refined or “processed” to be beneficial. So rather than going by marketing, it's best to go by what has been researched and has shown to be effective for your skin.