Petroleum jelly, also known as petrolatum, is a gooey mix of hydrocarbons that many people use for dry skin. Dermatologists sometimes recommend applying it after washing hands to seal in the moisture. Goodness knows we are all washing our hands many times a day during the crisis, as we should. Some people may find that slathering on petrolatum helps keep them from getting red and raw. Others are likely to find it too greasy.
Petroleum Jelly for Dry Skin:
Q. What’s the story on petroleum jelly? I have used it for years to soothe dry cracked skin, split finger tips and chapped lips. Why do some people badmouth this cheap moisturizer?
A. People seem to either love or hate petrolatum (petroleum jelly).
One visitor to our website offered the following:
“For years I tried just about every lotion or cream on the market. Nothing worked for my cracked fingers and hands. A nurse told me about Vaseline (petroleum jelly). It worked for both me and my husband. Several times a day and especially at night I rub some on my knees, elbows, knuckles and anywhere skin tends to crack. I love my petroleum jelly.” L.
Others are not so happy with this approach. Some are concerned because petroleum jelly is a byproduct of the oil-refining process and is not environmentally friendly. Others find it is not all that effective for dry skin.
“I have tried petroleum jelly. I put tons on and rub it in and sleep with gloves. Nothing works. This morning I woke up with another crack.”
“My thumbs and two fingertips on both hands crack and are very sore. I have gotten several different creams from doctors and nothing works. I have been dealing with it for a couple of years now. I have tried all the lotions and petroleum jelly. I have to type at my job and my fingers are always bandaged. Unsightly to say the least. HELP!”
J found that it’s too gooey and greasy:
“I am constantly using my smart phone, iPad and computer throughout the day. Petroleum jelly is just too greasy. I hate smearing up my phone and keyboard. Trying to wipe this stuff off is a constant hassle. Surely there is something that will work for my dry skin that won’t make everything I touch feel slippery.”
What About Petrolatum for Chapped Lips?
Q. I have been using petroleum jelly on a daily basis to moisturize my lips since I was a teenager. I am now 70. I know that a great deal of this product probably ends up being swallowed, just like lipstick. Is there any evidence that ingesting petrolatum over these many years will be harmful to my health in some way?
A. An evaluation of exposure to mineral oils and waxes in cosmetics concluded that this is not a significant problem (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, Nov 2019). Putting it in your nose to moisturize dry nostrils is quite another story, however. Inhaling petroleum jelly can lead to chemical pneumonitis, the last thing anyone needs.