Petrolatum (petroleum jelly) has a number of benefits that arise from its hydrophobic property. It acts as a barrier on the skin, locking moisture in and keeping bacteria and other things out. Thus, it is added (or even used as a primary ingredient) to some beauty products, especially lip balms. It can be too greasy when put in hair care products and lotions, although some lotions do contain small amounts of petrolatum. I used to slather petroleum jelly on my feet and cover them with socks at night, and I did wake up with soft feet, but this effect was temporary. Recently, however, I read in passing that petrolatum could do harm. One beauty blogger actively avoids lip balms that contain petrolatum, not saying why. So I did some reading online, and here’s the most important thing I discovered: its benefits are its disadvantages.
A scientist’s blog, hydrotion.blogspot.com, provides a comprehensive list of petrolatum’s good and bad aspects. I would like to quote a section, though:
- The barrier formed on the skin by petrolatum can be a double edged sword. If it can prevent evaporation of moisture from the skin, it also prevents absorption of moisture. If it can keep bacteria out, it can also trap bacteria in, etc.
- The barrier blocks your pores and prevents proper detoxification.
- The barrier prevents absorption of essential nutrients, vitamins and anti-oxidants by the skin, leading to under-nourished and unhealthy skin. This is why long-term use of petrochemicals can actually cause breakouts and leads to dry, cracked and damaged skin.
- It is simply a barrier, it does nothing to nourish or promote the health of your skin.”
This would explain the temporary softening effect of petroleum jelly on my feet: it kept the moisture in, but really, it did nothing but sit there. It doesn’t actively nourish the skin.
If you’ve read my lip balm post, you’ll remember that two of the lip balms I’d like to review next are Maybelline Baby Lips and Carmex. I changed my mind–both of these contain petrolatum. I’m going to finish my tubes of Maybelline Lip Smooth Color and Care and Chapstick because it would be such a waste to throw them away; besides, petrolatum is an effective barrier against windburn. But after I finish them, that’s it. No more petrolatum-containing lip balms for me. I’m better off putting nourishing balm on my lips (Human Nature tinted lip balms!) than putting a static, possibly contaminated petrochemical on them. Yes, unless the petrolatum in your beauty product has passed strict European standards, it may be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known carcinogens.
Never mind that non-petrolatum balms fade after a couple of hours. I am at ease knowing that they’ve been absorbed by my skin and are doing their magic from the inside.