Petroleum Jelly for Skin: The (not so) Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

What Is Petroleum Jelly, and Is It Bad For You?

Petroleum jelly, or “petrolatum”, is a semi-soft jelly-like substance that is derived from refined crude oil. It was discovered by oil drillers in Pennsylvania in 1860 at the bottom of oil rigs as a byproduct of refined crude oil. While there are those that might argue that it is “natural” because it came from the Earth, not everything natural is necessarily what we want to be rubbing onto our skin. Let’s dive into this product, and peel back the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Where is Petroleum Jelly Found in Skin Care?

Aside from being a byproduct of oil drilling, petroleum in the beauty industry has been refined to a very pure level. The most famous petroleum jelly for skin, Vaseline, has been around for a very long time, and there are people who love it and those that are very skeptical of it. Why the skepticism, and what petroleum-free skin care products do skeptics like instead? More on that later.

First of all, let’s talk about refining. When the crude product is brought from the Earth it is not anything anyone would dream of putting on their bodies, but then the processing begins.

According to information online by the makers of Vaseline®, it has been thoroughly processed and all of the harmful components have been removed. However, there are still those that argue that we cannot be sure if the product still contains some harmful properties like hydrocarbons. There were other companies that jumped on to the bandwagon and mimicked Vaseline® as well, and some of those less expensive brands may not have done the same level of refining, leaving more of the contaminants in the product.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), one out of every 14 cosmetic products contains petroleum. That makes it a very common, inexpensive ingredient. In addition to petroleum jelly products for skin, you may also find petrolatum hiding in names like “mineral oil”, “liquid paraffin”, “paraffin wax”, or “paraffin oil” in your skin care labels.

Can Petroleum Contribute to Cancer?

The US lacks much regulation on the type of processing that happens to the petrolatum. If impurities remain, the contaminants can have remaining carcinogens (things that cause cancer), like polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

While debate continues on whether or not petroleum jelly can cause cancer, US manufacturers aren’t legally required to remove PAH or other contaminants from these skin care products.

Under normal circumstances, anyone can be exposed to PAHs from normal activities like going to a bonfire, burning paraffin wax candles in the house, or having a coal, oil, or wood-based fire. But, direct and repeated exposure can also happen by applying petroleum jelly ingredients to the skin. The PAHs enter the body and are stored in the liver, fat, and body tissues, and accumulate through time.

Of the 100 kinds of PAHs, 15 have been identified to be carcinogens to humans. They are associated with breast cancer and should be avoided. Fortunately for all of us, there is a growing demand for petroleum-free skin care products that do not have these kinds of carcinogens present.

Does Petroleum Disrupt Hormones?

One problem that some people have with petroleum ingredients in skin care is that they are classified as xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are known to disrupt hormone balance. Petroleum and its derivatives in skin care ingredients may produce an estrogen effect, no matter how well they are refined. Estrogen dominance can lead to cancer. A person becomes estrogen dominant when they have lower levels of progesterone than estrogen.

In a series of studies from 2011, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry found that the petroleum “contains compounds with possible endocrine-disrupting potential with some of them acting via the hormone receptors”. These chemicals build up in the body over time. Long term use or exposure might tip hormones out of balance.

Petroleum Jelly’s Effects on Sensitive and Acne-Prone Skin

Imagine a piece of plastic wrap on top of your skin. It does nothing to help the skin; it does not moisturize it, feed it, or help it in any way other than to block the elements. If there is irritation under the plastic, like the irritation from skin which is prone to acne or rosacea, it traps it all inside, rather than letting the pores do their job and release toxins.

The thick qualities of the petroleum block pores, do nothing to help acne and can make it worse. And can products with petroleum ingredients can exacerbate acne and rosacea? Most definitely!

Then, Why Do People Use It?

As we mentioned above, these petroleum jelly skin care ingredients are really cheap. They are an inexpensive way for a lab to offer a product that can compete in the corner drug store market. Strangely enough, some of the ingredients also show up in some of the most expensive formulations in the world!

Mineral oils and petroleum-based formulations do nothing to help heal or help the skin. They don’t moisturize. They offer no humectant benefits by bringing moisture to the skin, but they do one thing very well: they lay down a thick layer over the top layer of the skin that holds in moisture and keeps dry, cold weather away in a protective layer.

If you think of your skin as a living thing (which it is), it needs food, it needs air, it needs moisture (water), and your skin needs to keep a protective layer from the elements. Petroleum products do that last thing very well, but are there better options out there?

What Can You Use Instead?

When shopping for petroleum-free skin care products, please remember to check the ingredients! Look for the ingredients listed above that are petroleum based, and keep away from them. If you are looking to block your skin from cold weather, try more natural ingredients that are thick but allow for breathing of the skin. Products containing plant wax, coconut oil, shea butter, mango butter, and cocoa butter work just as well without the health risks.

Ayr Skin Care is 100% petroleum free, including mineral oils. We know that petroleum ingredients may offer a feeling of temporary moisture, but it is just from that thick occlusive layer. We feel that over time this layer will possibly damage the skin’s natural balance and disrupt the production of elastin and collagen in the skin. Skin that is low in the production of elastin and collagen will develop wrinkles earlier and age faster.

For relief in your hands from dry weather conditions, try our Tranquility Hand Cream. More like a hand treatment or body butter, this thick cream has all the rich qualities and protection that your skin needs during winter without the side effects petroleum jelly has on skin. For our formulations, we love how organic butters and mulberry root extract work to nourish the skin and may also help minimize skin discolorations. The hand cream is completely silicone free and natural, as well, providing the perfect treat for your skin any time of the year.

Complete your petroleum jelly-free skin care routine with our Awaken Eye Serum and face creams, which are all filled with wonderful substitutes that do so much more than a petroleum-based product.

The next time you reach for the cheap products on the bottom row of your nearest drug store, take a minute to read exactly what you are rubbing into your skin. Treat yourself to something better! A dime saved now may mean a larger health bill later. Nourish your body now, so that later, it will continue to work hard to help you thrive.

Questions about our products and what’s best for your skin? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

If you have any questions or comments, we would be happy to answer you personally! Please contact us at