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Petroleum Jelly: Ingredient Decoder

Photo: Drugstore.com

Many of us think of Vaseline as a bathroom cabinet essential. A tub of the clear jelly only costs a few bucks and seems to last forever. On top of its status as a first aid kit staple, I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up a magazine and read “insider” beauty tips touting Vaseline as a no-frills moisturizer. I’ve known girls who smear it on their elbows and knees every night to keep roughness at bay, and there was a time I used it regularly as a lip balm. With all the praise it receives, you’d think Vaseline is a true miracle product, right? Well, think again. This is one case where the popular consensus surrounding a product doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves such a glowing reputation. In fact, I’ve come to think of Vaseline as the beauty equivalent of white bread: cheap and widespread but bad for you over the long run.

When I started doing some investigation into Vaseline’s only ingredient — petroleum jelly — I was dismayed at what I found. Petroleum jelly is a byproduct of oil production composed mainly of mineral oils and paraffin wax, a chemical preservative. In addition to Vaseline, it’s found in many lip balms, glosses, and moisturizers. While petroleum jelly (also known as petrolatum) creates a protective barrier on your skin and prevents moisture loss, it also has downsides.

First, the mineral oil in petroleum jelly clogs your pores, leading to whiteheads and breakouts, so people with oily and acne-prone skin should steer clear. Petroleum jelly also breaks down the collagen in your skin over time, leading to the loss of the plumpness we all prize. Worst of all, it may also be carcinogenic, and the E.U., which is always one step ahead of the U.S. when it comes to cosmetics safety, has already banned many products containing petroleum jelly. Don’t just take my word for it: the famous Dr. Oz warns women that spreading petroleum jelly products on their lips leads to accidental consumption, which is “essentially the same as drinking gasoline.” 

If you’re not crazy about the idea of using a product that’s basically a mega-refined version of car fuel, try natural alternatives to petroleum jelly instead. My personal favorite is Waxelene, an all-over moisturizer and lubricant that’s giving regular Vaseline a serious run for its money. The star ingredient in Waxelene is raw beeswax, Mother Nature’s answer to petroleum. Together with organic soybean oil, rosemary oil, and Vitamin E, beeswax will lock in moisture without any risk of irritation. I’ve been using it to heal my cracked hands and chapped lips, and I love how the thick formula makes my skin feel soft and protected against the harsh winter weather. Give it a try, and ditch the half-used tub of Vaseline sitting in your bathroom stat. 

 —Mai  

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