Petroleum Jelly – Mineral Oil

PETROLeum jelly or PETROLatum or Mineral Oil (in liquid form) is a byproduct of crude oil (petroleum).

It is found as an ointment (most famous one is Vaseline) as a lip balm, in moisturisers, baby products, eucalyptus “rubs” etc.

So, what is it and how did it come about?

Well, it came about in the 1860s in the USA, when the miners were drilling for crude oil. They had this “leftover” bit after the processing of it, which they called “rod wax” and it was black; they used it to coat the ends of their drills but then they also started using it on their cuts and burns.

This was enough for Robert Chesebrough to come along and refine it into a clear-like jelly and market it as a soothing ointment or the “miracle product” as he called it.

As it is a by product, it is not a sustainable resource and as such not eco friendly.

In today’s world, petroleum jelly/mineral oil are marketed as helpful for the following:

  • Skin soothing
  • Heals dry skin
  • Protects minor cuts
  • Nappy rash
  • Chapped lips
  • Heal raw noses
  • Also as a base for the vapour rub we use when congested
  • Reduces appearance of fine, dry lines
  • Appearance and feel of hydrated skin

In reality, petroleum jelly/mineral oil are essentially like sticking a bit of plastic or rubber over your skin. Suffocates it, so it doesn’t breathe and traps all the stuff that is already on your skin, like dirt and dead skin cells. People with an acne problem should definitely stay away from this stuff.

Before I go any further I would suggest you have a read of my “Love affair with your skin” post; in it, I talk about the skin being your largest organ and the cumulative effect products you use every day have on your skin and internal organs.

Why is it bad?

I am not going to beat around the bush. Petroleum jelly/mineral oil in its purest form, is considered by the “powers at be” to be safe and non harmful. We, however, have no guarantees as to the pureness of the product we use and even if we did, why would we want to put petrol on our and our babies’ skin?

  • One of the major concerns, where this substance is not pure is PAH, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which is a poison found with petroleum jelly all too often and it is carcinogenic i.e. cancer causing, as well as being a skin irritant.
  • While I’m on the subject, also 1,3 butadiene and ethylene oxide which are linked to breast cancer
  • If petroleum jelly gets into your lungs (for example, from repeated rubbing on your sore cracked nose when you have a cold), it can cause lipid pneumonia
  • Instead of moisturising you skin, what it does is seal it, so that the existing moisture does not leave the skin and thus not allowing your skin to breathe either. In fact, you are drying out your pores and suffocating them, because neither air or moisture can reach your skin. Your skin needs to be able to eliminate dirt, contaminants and toxins (this is your skin’s job) and it cannot do that if it has a plastic shield over it
  • It is a water repellent and not water soluble, making it difficult to wash off your skin properly. This also makes it difficult for your body to eliminate from the inside as well, and can cause build up in various organs in your body.
  • If you recall, I explained how everything we put on our skin is absorbed by it. The same thing here: petroleum jelly/petrolatum/mineral oil melt into your skin, flow into the spaces between your cells and fill the gaps in the lipid barrier. Once there, it becomes solid again and locks itself into place. Thus the build up in organs with repeated use.

One famous person (not mentioning any names – Dr Oz 🙂 ) has likened using petroleum jelly on your lips (i.e. in lip balm etc) as being comparable to drinking petrol or gasoline.

Petroleum Jelly has been BANNED from cosmetics in Europe mainly due to its link to PAHs.

I have just checked the ingredients on a bottle of a leading brand’s baby oil. Two ingredients only: mineral oil and fragrance. I have already written about fragrance, so if that’s not bad enough they want you to cover your baby in petrol as well? Nice…

All the big companies etc use it because it is cheap and a nice filler. It would be just way too costly for them to look at exploring and implementing alternatives. But it doesn’t have to be for you.

There are a number of alternatives for petroleum jelly/mineral oil/petrolatum.

Depending on which product you are looking at replacing of course, but some of them include almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil etc. (just make sure the oil you are using is pure). I personally love coconut oil and I also occasionally smother my babies is coconut oil after their bath. Makes them smell like little Bounty Bars 🙂 I use this one. It can be found in most health food stores.

The other thing which personally scared me, was finding out that petroleum jelly was used as a base in a eucalyptus rub I would put on my babies when they were congested. I now have an oil diffuser and you can either put a mix of oils in there (such as eucalyptus, lavender etc) or there are specific blends. The one is use is this one and it helps clear everyone right up 🙂

The point here is, why use something which is not only not good for you but potentially harmful as well? Why would you when there are so many alternatives out there? Safe alternatives.

If you have trouble finding a safe alternative for a product you use, which contains potentially harmful ingredients, please please let me know! I will do my very best to help you find a safer way 🙂



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Tash Majenta

I feel awful-I have lathered Vicks Vapor Rub on my kids- their chest, back, neck, under the nose and the soles of their feet when they have colds. It worked so well but this report is a rude shock to just how dangerous it is.

    Ana Hall

    Yep, I have of course done this too. And liberally shoved a tonne of it up my nose to clear it up, lol! At least it’s better we know now than later…

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