Vaseline Petroleum Jelly

Vaseline Petroleum Jelly dates back over 140 years. The Vaseline patent was issued in 1872 to British chemist, Robert Chesebrough. He had traveled to Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859 to check out the newly discovered oil fields. He observed a byproduct of the oil drilling process being used by the roughnecks to heal their skin irritations. He went on to purify this greasy goo. It is best known today as a skin moisturizer. We ignited a controversy over a decade ago when we advised readers not to use petroleum jelly in their nostrils.

The Beginning of the Petroleum Jelly War:

It all started because a reader of our syndicated newspaper column wanted to know if Vicks VapoRub was safe to put in the nose:

January 5, 2004

“I’ve been plagued with post-nasal drip for decades. I also have a deviated septum that can make my breathing labored at night. I notice this especially when I’ve cleaned during the day. In the morning I have to clear my throat repeatedly for about 45 minutes because of the post-nasal drip upon rising.

“Two weeks ago I decided to put a thin film of Vicks VapoRub up my nostrils before bed so I wouldn’t have to wake up. Voila! No more labored breathing and no more post-nasal drip and raspy throat the next morning. Am I just imagining that Vicks helps? Is it harmful to put Vicks up my nose every night?”

We responded to this question:

A. Although it was once common practice to put a dab of Vicks inside the nostrils, the manufacturer of Vicks VapoRub is now quite specific in its warnings:

“For external use only…Do not use by mouth or in nostrils.”

That is partly because one ingredient, camphor, can be toxic if absorbed into the body.

The Battle Begins:

An “inactive” ingredient in Vicks VapoRub is petrolatum. It wasn’t long before we were taken to task by readers.

Here is just one example:

“I am 71 years old and have been using Vicks in my nostrils at bedtime to ease breathing since my mother taught me from childhood. She lived to a ripe old age doing the same thing. Regardless of your warning, I am not about to stop now.”

A few weeks later a physician chimed in and also straightened us out.

According to him we were barking up the wrong tree with our concern about camphor.

“You recently told readers not to put Vicks VapoRub in the nose. You suggested that camphor, an ingredient in Vicks, might be the problem.

“As a pulmonary physician, I can explain the real reason there is a warning against putting Vicks VapoRub in the nostrils. It is not the camphor, but the petrolatum. Petroleum jelly or mineral oil can cause a chronic form of pneumonia when aspirated into the lungs.

“Most people inhale minute quantities of their nasal secretions, especially during sleep. Over time, the oil components of VapoRub or petroleum jelly can’t be cleared from the lungs. This can lead to cough, shortness of breath and reduced lung capacity.

“There are no effective treatment options for this type of pneumonia, so it is never advisable to place any oil-containing substances into the nostrils. Saline nasal spray is a much safer option for keeping the nostrils moist.”

Vicks vs. Vaseline Petroleum Jelly:

You may be wondering what Vicks VapoRub has to do with Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. It’s the petrolatum, aka petroleum jelly. Here is just the latest question in this ongoing saga:

Q. My ear, nose and throat specialist told me not to use Vicks VapoRub in my nose when it is dry. He said that Vaseline would be fine for moisturizing, though.

I have been applying Vaseline in my nostrils almost nightly for five years. The only symptom I’ve had is a little coughing. Should I worry about this?

A. Yes. Even though your ENT doctor endorsed it, Vaseline Petroleum Jelly should not be used inside the nostrils. Inhaling small particles of petroleum jelly can result in chemical pneumonitis.

Another reader shared his story:

“Never ever use Vaseline or anything oily inside your nose. This practice could be life threatening.

“The oil goes to your lungs and they have no way to get rid of it. After my dentist accidentally damaged my trigeminal nerve, I ended up with burning mouth syndrome and a terribly dry nose. I started using Vaseline in the nose to be able to sleep at night.

“Now I have developed an incurable lung disease as a result. If you read the label, it says ‘external use only.’ Inside the nose is not external use. That is my bad.

“I hope this will help someone avoid the same fate. Not being able to breathe is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Believe me, I know.”

Doctors vs. Doctors:

We have been amazed at how emotional the battle of Vicks VapoRub and Vaseline Petroleum Jelly in the nose has become. In this article a dermatologist disagrees with an asthma specialist.

Doctors Disagree About Putting Petroleum Jelly in Nose

Share your own thoughts about petroleum jelly in the nose in the comment section below. We agree with the first pulmonary specialist that saline spray is a much safer option, but we want to hear from you as well.

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  1. Ana C.
    Yonkers, NY

    I used Organic oils inside my nostrils, never used a essential oil inside!!!
    Sesame seed, mustard, almond, coconut or olive (or) honey, distilled water with sea salt and aloe gel. Don’t use the oils to go to bed. Now I got afraid, too, after reading all this. 8oz. Water, 1 tsp salt. Just apply in the nostrils.

  2. tom

    Used Vaseline in A.M. to soften dried mucus in nose. Helps extraction with subsequent nose blowing. Avoids repeat of multiple nosebleeds prior to practice. 91 and heading to 100.

  3. Cathy

    Our kid’s doctor has always told us to use a little Aquaphor in their noses at night because they are prone to nosebleeds. We’ve been doing it for years. Is that not the best practice after all?

  4. Nan
    Staunton, VA

    Are plant-based essential oils (lemon, lavender, eucalyptus, etc.) safe to inhale? They are used to scent many products that will be inhaled.

    • Cathy

      I use Ponaris nasal emollient on occasion. It has oils of pine, eucalyptus, peppermint, and cottonseed in it. Many people don’t care for the scent but I don’t mind it.

  5. Marian

    Several years ago I read that using KY jelly as a lubricant for dry nose is safe and works. It is water based so no need to worry about petroleum.

  6. H.Toni
    Endicott, NY

    I had an almost daily bloody nose. My physician advised me to put a bit of Bacitracin into the nostril. That completely stopped the nosebleeds. and lubricated the nostrils.

  7. Dot
    North Carolina

    speaking of Vaseline….heard a Mrs. America contest, years ago, say she had never used anything but Vaseline to remove make up and put on face before bed……so of course that is what I started doing…I am 84 and skin is in pretty good shape for the shape it’s in….now I wonder..and I use a swig of mineral oil at night to keep bowels moving…have I created a danger!!! Please advise! Thanks!

  8. Joe
    New York

    What about the use of Vitamin E oil that’s labeled as “pure enough to be taken orally?”

  9. Kevin S.

    Since my facial radiation 5 years ago I swab in Vaseline at least 3 times a day since my nasal mucous membranes were killed.
    Although this is anecdotal many people I know use lotions, jellies, sunscreens that go in the nose with no ill effects.
    By the way; the lungs are very efficient at breaking down and expelling foreign substances. Think about it!

  10. Dan
    Chapel Hill, NC

    It’s not likely that vasoline aerosolizes with breathing – there just isn’t sufficient sheer. HOWEVER, vaseline applied with some thickness will melt, and if administered before bed with slowly find its way into the airways. It doesn’t trigger a gag.

    This issue has long plagued elderly folks who take mineral oil or other oily laxatives before bed and, once supine, the residual ever so slowly moves into the airways and deep lung – a process that often takes months and years when part of a nightly routine. A little smear of Vicks on a raw, stuffy nose once or twice a winter likely would not result in a lipoid pneumonia.

  11. carol
    San Bruno california.

    I used Vaseline in my nose for years. Yes, it helped to dry the nose bleeds. Then one day a customer of mine told me about a simple saline spray. She swore by it, especially at the end of of a cold and during a cold. People, this product works! Now if I have trouble with a dry stuffy nose give me saline spray.

  12. Lynn

    I have a condition which causes constant lack of moisture in the nasal passages. Over-the-counter products have preservatives which burn my nose. Nasal sprays and rinses do not coat the septum adequately. I have been using a Q-tip to apply a small amount of olive oil inside my nose. Is this also problematic for the lungs? How about a pierced Vitamin E capsule applied in this way?
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Sara
      North Carolina

      I was going to ask about using Vitamin E capsules in the nostrils for dryness, and saw that someone else asked about it, but did not see any reply. I have used Vit. E caps off and on for years in my nostrils at bedtime. As a child, and during some adult single years, I used Vicks Vapor Rub in nostrils AND mouth. Even took it with me when spending overnight with friends as a child. Lungs are in good shape, according to my Oncologist, however have not used Vicks in years. I, too would to know if Vitamin E is safe to use in the nostrils.

  13. Mary

    If my nose was stopped up, I might spread some Vicks UNDER the nostrils.
    It is not worth the risk of getting into the lungs.

  14. Jim

    My ENT told me NOT to use petroleum jelly in the nose – for me to prevent bloody noses. She said the petroleum actually dries the nostrils (not withstanding the warnings of getting it into your lungs). she said to use KY Jelly or a generic. It works great! I have small 1 oz squirt bottles which I fill with the jelly and keep handy when I fly or when there is low humidity (like all winter long). I rarely get a bloody nose.

  15. William

    When I was growing up we always used VapoRub for a stuffy nose BUT we never put it IN the nostrils. We put it on the upper lip.

  16. Betty

    Dry crisp nose at night? Look at your furnace. Furnaces dry out the air, resulting in dry, very uncomfortable breathing. Expensive, but get a humidifier for the furnace. Or get a small one for your bedroom. It is WONDERFUL. For me, the dry crisp nose at night was only in winter when furnace was running. The small added humidity cleared it up. I have it no more!! When I was in a hospital, they keep the humidity down to almost none, and I had to check myself out so I could go home and BREATHE.

  17. Klara

    I LOVE Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. It is my go to cure for a lot of things because it is soothing to the skin and non-irritating. To give just one example, I use it to cure athletes foot. One application on the painful crack between my toes usually clears it right up. However, I would never use it where it could be ingested into the body. I always knew instinctively that it would be bad for me if ingested.

  18. James
    Loveland, Colorado

    Surely the assertion that petroleum jelly products are a negative when it come to prolong usage in the nose could be validated ( or not ) through biopsy of lung tissue. No one seems to have read or provided any evidence. Even practicing doctors here have provided contradictory guidance to patients. The dry nose / bleeding issues can be a serious impediment to sleep.

  19. CJ

    I use a product called Ayr Saline Nasal Gel. It has a thicker consistency, so it protects longer than a saline spray. And the label says it can be used inside the nostrils. I’m prone to nosebleeds and it really helps prevent them.

  20. Donald S.
    North Carolina

    What about using antibiotic ointment in the nasal passages?
    I’ve been using it for years – it’s been a great help.
    Just the store brand ointment applied with a Q-tip.
    Your thoughts?

    • Cathy

      I have been using a triple antibiotic ointment in my nose for years to help with dryness and bleeds. A new doctor I went to a few years ago was concerned and asked how many infections I’ve had in my nasal area. None! I still use it. My pulmonologist also said that Vaseline was ok to use in the nose and knows I use the antibiotic ointment.

  21. Sandy

    When needed I use a saline nasal gel.

  22. Dallee

    Same reasoning leads to this conclusion — Do Not Use Spray Oils for Cooking.

    Lungs do not deal well with fats of any type.

  23. Maria

    Thank you for this information. I had a doctor who suggested using a dab of Bacitracin ointment in my nostrils for severe dryness. I also read a testimonial from someone who swore by this antibiotic ointment, claiming that dabbing a bit in both nostrils before traveling by plane kept him healthy. I had been using this on a weekly basis during flu season. I will not do this again and I will stick to my zinc lozenges instead. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  24. Ann E

    I’ve been using Vicks in my nose for years and I had a severe cough when I started. I will stop using it and see if the cough stops. However, I would love to know if there is a way to determine if it has affected my lungs. I’ve been seen by at least three pulmonary doctors and none have said anything about using Vicks.

  25. W.K.

    I was taught in Medical School that this was a dangerous practice .
    If one is battling nosebleeds , nevertheless, I have. advised using petroleum jelly for a short period of time to help keep the nose moist
    At times I have used Mupirocin ointment in my own nose and wondered if the same precaution should apply ……

  26. Giovanna
    Ontario Canada

    I have been using Vaseline in my nostrils all my life. I am now 79 years and in great shape. Never hurt me or any of my friends.

  27. Kathleen

    I too have a continual problem with dry nostrils and have been using a thin layer of coconut oil multiple times during the day and before bed. Since this is not a petroleum product, I thought it would be a safe alternative. It helps but now I’m concerned that this might also be contraindicated. Can anyone advise me if it is safe to do this.? Saline sprays don’t seem to help.

    • Sue

      When I was in college, I stopped drinking this one type of lemon drink because I found out that it contains very small percentage of lemon. Then, I ended up having dried and bleeding nose. I went to the student health center and the doctor put Vaseline in my nose and that stopped the bleeding.

      Another time, I had cold sores on my lips. My dentist used Vaseline on my lips once and the cold sore went away. Love Vaseline.

    • AJH

      Hi Kathleen,

      I also have been using organic coconut oil for a few years. I got a severe nose bleed (which I never had before) twice, went to an ENT who cauterized something inside my nose. The doctor said to use Neosporin for awhile and then I decided to use coconut oil to moisturize my nostrils at bedtime only. I’ve done this for a couple of years and have continued using 3-4 times a week with no adverse reaction. It really helps.

      Now, like you, after reading this article, I’m afraid to use any oil. I’ve never tried saline spray but interesting to know that it did not help you. I’m going to give it a try and see what happens.

  28. KAF

    I live in humid New England, and have been traveling to visit in dry Colorado several times a year. When I am in Colorado, my nose always bleeds due to the dryness. I have found that using a saline nasal spray multiple times a day initially helps substantially, and I need to use it less towards the end of my visit.

    • Fred

      Try almond oil.

  29. Gerry

    A small amount occasionally doesn’t hurt, true of most medications. I use Vicks occasionally up the nose if I wake up overnight and nose is terribly dry. Nasacort though during allergy season.
    I use Vaseline on scaly spots on facial skin, typical fair skin problem in Fla, though I do not sunbathe, never have. Vaseline much easier on the skin than that cancer cream the doc rx’d and works pretty good.
    Vicks was the go to for asthma treatment for my brother when he was a baby, under a sheet tent in a vaporizer. He still has breathing problems but he smoked for 40 years. I never did. He’s 79, I’m 81. a healthy old bat.

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