Is petrolatum bad for skin?

Anything that contains "petrol" in the name must be icky, harmful and toxic, right? Nope, when it comes to skincare, petroleum by-products are some of the most effective and safe ingredients.

Petrolatum is not bad for your skin, despite what one might hear from fear mongers. In fact, petrolatum is one of the most effective and hypoallergenic moisturizing ingredients known. You can use petrolatum-based skincare to protect sensitive skin and help restore the skin barrier, even for babies and in pregnancy.

What is petrolarum?

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly is made out of crude oil. Native Americans were most likely the first to discover its skin protecting and moisturizing properties. Today, petrolatum is a by-product of the oil industry. It means that no oil is recovered with the purpose of producing petrolatum, it is made out of crude oil parts that would go wasted otherwise. 

Petrolatum is very similar in its composition and functions to mineral oil (paraffinum liquidum), but it is not the same ingredient. Petrolatum contains a wider variety of hydrocarbons creating a jelly-like texture. The composition of mineral oil is more uniform, and it is a transparent liquid.

What does petrolatum do for skin?

Petrolatum helps soften the upper layer of the skin. By doing so, it supports the skin barrier function and relieves the feeling of dryness, roughness and tightness. It might be able even to repair the surface of the surface of the skin where natural lipids are missing. 

Petrolatum also forms a protective layer on the surface of the skin. This layer can protect the skin from irritants, and from dry air as it helps to “seal in” moisture in the skin. There is no need to worry though that petrolatum does not let the skin “breathe” or “traps” bacteria on the skin surface: research shows that the petrolatum layer on the skin is permeable (as in things can get in and out).

Irritant or allergic reactions to petrolatum are extremely rare, and it is one of the most hypoallergenic ingredients in skincare. 


Effects of petrolatum on stratum corneum structure and function

Petrolatum Prevents Irritation in a Human Cumulative Exposure Model