One of the best moisturiser might be the one you saw as a child in the bathroom cabinet. It was used by your mother, grandmother, and possibly even your grandmother. It costs a couple of bucks and can do a lot from soothing unbearably dry skin to removing makeup and helping style eyebrows or delivering highlights. You can use it from your nose to your toes and it can even be applied to your cuticles.
Can you guess what I’m talking about?
I can hear you say: “Wait! Vaseline in this day and age? With so many new products hitting the market? Does it even work? Do I really need this old-school stuff?
Yes and yes!
It’s been a fixture in households around the world so that in many languges the word “Vaseline” is used as a generic term for petroleum jelly. You know, like Kleenex, Hoover, and Q-tips. From its invention by chemist Robert Chesebrough in 1870 it’s now even the star in the K-beauty routine “slugging”, more on it comes in a bit.
What is this stuff?
More than 150 years after its invention, petroleum jelly is still used on cuts, burns, dry and patchy skin, and even diaper rash. This is why I’ll just stick to Vaseline as a generic for petroleum jelly.
It’s a mix of readily spreadable natural waxes and mineral oils called hydrocarbons. Yes, it starts out as a petroleum (crude oil) by-product. And that’s also the reason why it has gotten a bad rep in the clean beauty movement.
But, until it gets sold as Vaseline or under another brand name, it’s processed. It’s refined and purified to change the colour and remove odours and other contaminants. Vaseline as in the brand Vaseline is refined 3 times, which means it has zero risk for cancer and an overall hazard ranking of “low”.
How does Vaseline work on your skin?
It’s not hard to find stories about how amazing Vaseline is both from celebrities and on social media. You can even find how Hollywood legends Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly rave about it.
It’s not that Vaseline is adding moisture to your skin, it’s more of a seal that prevents moisture from escaping your skin. When moisture evaporates from your skin it’s called transepidermal water loss (TEWL). According to a study, it can prevent more than 98% of water loss from the outer layer of your skin.
In creating a physical barrier, it’s practically unmatched in sealing in the moisture and so it’s still a popular ingredient in moisturisers. Well-known brands such as CeraVe or Beiderma formulate their moisturisers with it.
As Vaseline locks in moisture, it’s called an occlusive. This barrier helps to speed up your skin’s natural recovery from dryness.
How can petroleum jelly help your skin?
Vaseline traps moisture in your skin and stops it from evaporites. It blocks exposure of your skin to air. Dry air can pull moisture from your skin.
Especially in dry climates, seasons, or areas, many of us need more protection. You’ll also be pleased to know that Vaseline seals in your skin’s own natural moisture. So, if the formulations of some moisturiser break you out, you got an alternative.
For a functioning skin barrier, you need the right balance of dead skin (keratinocytes) and lipids. You can think of the lipids as the cement that holds everything together. So, by applying an occlusive such as Vaseline, you allow your skin barrier to repair itself.
Further, it also protects the products you applied before. Instead of evaporating along with the moisture in your skin, they can better penetrate your skin. Hence, Vaseline can increase their potency.
Cuts, scrapes, and other minor wounds
If you got cracked heels, fissures around your fingertips, rough cuticles, or split corners of your mouth, try applying Vaseline before bed. Since it forms a barrier, it’ll keep these areas moist and allows the skin to heal.
Protect your skin from dust and bacteria
As Vaseline forms a barrier, it protects your skin from dust, bacteria, environmental pollutants, and harsh elements that can harm it. BUT, this can be a two-edged sword: The seal also traps all pre-existing “stuff” on your skin – more on that in a bit. But for now, if you want to use Vaseline, it’s always a good idea to first cleanse.
There are many more uses for Vaseline:
- Pain and itch relief
- Prevent blisters
- Diaper rash relief
- Heals chapped lips
- Makeup remover
- At home manicures (you can use it as a “roadblock” to stop nail varnish into bleeding everywhere)
- Protect your skin when you dye your hair
- Refresh scuffed leather shoes
Slugging is trending
Did you know that the word slugging comes from applying a thick, heavy-duty occlusive as the last step of a nighttime routine? It can get messy, with a slimy film so it resembles a slug, hence slugging.
Having an occlusive at the end of a routine isn’t really such a new concept. Particularly if you’re contending with dry skin or living in arid areas, completing your routine with such a step is probably what you’re doing already. You could be using a heavy-duty cream formulated with ingredients such as lanolin, zinc oxide, or petroleum jelly.
Slugging is also not new, it’s been popularised by (who else?) K-beauty. It’s for when you want to wake up to a natural, dewy glow and combat dryness. It involves coating your face in Vaseline after you’ve applied one or more products that contain humectants, emollients, and actives. In short, this layer seals in any of the potions, serums, and elixirs you’ve already applied.
Well, Vaseline isn’t for everyone. It’ll definitively feel heavy and greasy so it’s better for people with dry skin.
Now back to the upsides and downsides of Vaseline being an occlusive and that it traps everything on your skin. The upsides are, of course, it traps moisture and everything that you’ve applied beforehand.
The downsides are that it can trap oil, dirt, and bacteria. So, if you’re prone to breakouts, it’s a no-go, even if Vaseline is noncomedogenic. It has been shown to not block up your pores so it’s generally fine to use.
Unless you live in an especially cold and dry environment, or face harsh winds, it’s best to apply it before bed. Otherwise, you’ll walk around shiny as a mirror (or slimy as a slug) and you’ll definitely feel it sitting on your skin.
If you still like the idea of slugging, you can try to use a less sealing occlusive. There are also specially formulated products called sleeping masks. Another trick is to apply not one but 2 layers of your favourite nighttime moisturiser.
You could also be looking for a more sustainable product. Even though limiting your use of Vaseline has little to no impact on climate change. But, you can look for plant oils or animal waxes, although they are not as occlusive, they can be more expensive and have risks of contamination.
As long as farms and processing facilities use oil, gas, and coal to harvest and refine shea butter, rosehip oil, and other plant-based products to make it to the shelves.
There’s always going to be a newer, more elaborate, fancy, and shinier product coming out. But they can cost you an arm or a leg – your skin and your wallet might be a better description.
Petroleum jelly has been on the shelves for over 150 years. It’s not only versatile and affordable, it’s truly tried and tested for generations. Provided you don’t have spots, Vaseline can make an awesome and budget-friendly addition to your skin care.