petrolatum scaled - The Problem With Petroleum Jelly?
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The Problem With Petroleum Jelly?

What is petroleum jelly?

Petrolatum, also known as petroleum jelly, is a derivative. Petrolatum, a paraffin-like material, is composed of natural waxes and mineral oil. When first produced, it is typically a darker color due to impurities. After being refined it becomes the familiar transparent, sometimes pale yellow, thick and slick substance. Due to its ability to retain moisture it is frequently used as a moisturizing agent in a wide range of personal care products, including cosmetics, lotions, balms, ointments, and even hand soaps. It is thought to have been discovered in the late 1859s in a small Pennsylvania town by oil workers who were using the paraffin-like material to coat oil rigs and heal wounds or burns on their skin.

Petroleum jelly can be found under names such as:

  • Petroleum jelly
  • Paraffin jelly
  • Vasoliment
  • Liquid paraffin
  • Mineral oil
  • Paraffin oil

Benefits of petroleum jelly for skin

Dermatologists love petroleum jelly because it’s so versatile. The multipurpose jelly is used for just about everything from dry, cracked lips to dry elbows and hard skin on feet. While petroleum jelly does not heal burns or other wounds, it does form a protective barrier that protects a cleaned burn or injury from contamination or infection.

Is petroleum jelly bad for you?

In more recent years, there has been controversy surrounding petroleum jelly. The concern has to do with the manufacturing process, which includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are thought to have potential links to breast cancer.

Refined petroleum jelly vs. unrefined petroleum jelly?

When properly refined, petrolatum jelly poses no known health risks. The issue is that in the United States, petrolatum is frequently not fully refined, as many manufacturers choose to use refined petrolatum or low-grade refinement processing. This means it can be contaminated with toxic chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The United States sets no requirements for refinement or the PAH content of petrolatum used in personal care products. In contrast, the EU requires that for cosmetic use, the full refining history of the petrolatum be known and proven to be non-carcinogenic.

Which petroleum jelly is safe to buy?

Generally, the whiter the jelly, the more it has been refined. Check to make sure the petrolatum is labeled as ‘white petrolatum’ or ‘petrolatum, USP’ (i.e. ‘the purest grade’ of petroleum, which ‘obeys the standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia involving consistency and purity tests’, according to Dermveda.

Unless the company clearly indicates petrolatum is fully refined as white petrolatum, then it’s better to avoid products with petrolatum.

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