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Love It or Hate It, Petroleum Jelly Elicits Emotion

Dermatologists often recommend petroleum jelly to condition and moisturize dry skin. It may be safe for lips, but keep it out of your nose!
Petrolatum Vaseline

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.

Cheryl wrote:

“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.”

Dee agreed:

“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. 

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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  • Chuberre B et al, "Mineral oils and waxes in cosmetics: An overview mainly based on the current European regulations and the safety profile of these compounds." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, Nov 2019. DOI: 10.1111/jdv.15946
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The cracks on my hands ended when I switched from antibacterial soaps to Dr. Bronner’s and started using locally-made bar soaps. I am sensitive to sodium laurel sulfate and suspect it may be in some commercial soaps.

Years ago, I used to have those painful cracks on my fingers, along with other seemingly unrelated eyes, nose, throat allergy symptoms.

Integrative medicine physician discovered both candida gastrointestinal infection AND allergy to candida.

Treatment fixed both problems!

I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to lanolin. And most liquid soaps contain preservatives I am allergic to.

Not usable for a person like myself with chemical sensitivity to petroleum-based products. Perhaps a factor in my becoming chemically sensitive???

Now I make my own products with beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, almond oil. Much healthier and beautiful, soothing balms!! Also much less costly to make your own personal care products.

I find using a combination of Shea Butter, Lanolin and a drop of Tea Tree oil works great for dry skin.

Solid lanolin works so well and healed my son’s cracked hands overnight. I can’t recommend it enough.

Me too. I don’t normally use a bandaid, but it does work. I put it on a hangnail too; heals more quickly.

I am looking into urine treatments for dry, cracked feet and hands. I am thinking seriously about giving it a go. That is something I have plenty of…and it’s free. I have read that it also treat foot fungus. Comments from people that have tried it seems to swear by it. I do not like the thought of messing around with urine but dry cracked skin is an even worse of a problem for me. If it actually works I could learn to like it.

For cracked fingertips, use either SKIN SHIELD or Kroger brand LIQUID BANDAGE. It covers the open cracks like clear nail polish and sorta smells like nail polish, but does the job.

I use organic olive oil on dry hands. I put it on at night before going to bed and my skin seems to love the stuff. No additives or chemicals, and it works well.

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