Winter Skin Care

Petroleum Jelly Is One of the Best (and Least Expensive) Skin Moisturizer You Can Buy, According to Derms

Photo: Getty Images/Delmaine Donson
The best skin moisturizing ingredient might be the one your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother have known about all along. It only costs $4 to add it to your own collection—if it's not a part of it already. Petroleum jelly, most well-known under the brand Vaseline, has many uses, from soothing dry skin to helping style eyebrows.

Petroleum jelly has gotten a bad rap in the clean beauty revolution because it starts out as a petroleum by-product; however it's highly refined and totally safe (and frequently recommended by dermatologists) to use, particularly for those with dry skin.  "Petroleum jelly is very occlusive, meaning it works to keep moisture from leaving your skin by blocking exposure of the skin to air, because dryness in the air can really pull moisture from your skin," says dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD, aka Dr. Pimple Popper and the founder of SLMD Skincare. "In some ways, that's wonderful, as this type of thick formula can strengthen the skin’s barrier, making it less likely for water to evaporate from your skin and dry it out. However, this isn't true for all skin types."  Want to know more about the all-star ingredient, and how it works for skin? Keep scrolling.

Benefits of using petroleum jelly

1. It helps lock in moisture in

Petroleum jelly is thick like peanut butter, so it's not necessarily something you'll want to slather all over your body like lotion, but it's a great choice for areas like the elbows, knuckles, and lips that are dry or prone to dryness, says Dr. Lee. "In the winter, many of us need to switch to more moisturizing products, so it’s common to increase the use of petroleum jelly during winter months," she says. "Personally, I have very dry skin, so I can tolerate a thin layer of petroleum jelly under makeup, but someone with really oily skin would probably hate this. It’s definitely a greasier product that can make applying makeup or other skin-care products a little more difficult."

2. It helps with cuts and scrapes

Dr. Lee suggests using petroleum jelly to moisturize your dry heels, the cracks or fissures around your fingertips, and the split corners of your mouth before you go to sleep. It helps with these things because it not only can help prevent painful splitting in the skin, but it also helps keep those areas moist, and it's safe to use almost anywhere on your body.

“This non-irritating, barrier-sealing product is a great option for preventing chapped lips, soothing irritated skin, and even treating skin clean wounds,” board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, previously told Well+Good.“With no potential for skin allergy, it protects the skin by creating an artificial, and protective, skin barrier that holds in moisture, allowing the skin to heal.”

3. You can use it in your makeup routine

Ever heard of soap brows, wherein you use a bar of soap as a way to slick your arches to your face? Welp, we'll do you one better. By dabbing on a petroleum jelly product on arches, you can help style your brows without the threat of skin irritation.

4. It acts as a dry skin spot treatment

As previously stated, while you likely don't want to cover yourself from head-to-toes in Vaseline, it can act as an A-plus spot treatment for those with dry skin. "You can use petroleum jelly on your elbows, knees, and anywhere else you experience extra dry skin. It's also wonderful if you have eczema, as it can help alleviate and control related flare-ups," says Dr. Lee.

How to use petroleum jelly

Ok, you've decided to apply petroleum jelly to skin, great. Here's how to do it the right way.

1. Select a product like Vaseline or Aquaphor.

2. Assess the area that you're trying to treat. If it's a bigger surface area, you'll need more product than if you're treating a smaller area like your lips. Remember: A little bit goes a long way and you want the skin to feel ever so slightly shellacked and not like you have on globs of PJ.

3. Using a cotton swab or some kind of a tongue depressor remove some petroleum jelly from the container  (you don't want to introduce bacteria from your fingers into the jar) and apply it either directly to skin (particularly if you're applying it to a cut) or your fingertips to thinly spread onto the affected area.

When to use petroleum jelly

1. If you have eczema or psoriasis

If you have a condition such as eczema or psoriasis, you want ingredients that are moisturizing and bland. "Mineral oil and petrolatum are non-sensitizing ingredients," Y. Claire Chang, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology previously told Well+Good. "Cosmetic-grade petrolatum has been highly refined from its original form to a safe, purified ingredient, and I commonly recommend petrolatum-containing products, like Vaseline and Aquaphor ointment, to help with healing wounds, dry skin, and eczema."

2. If you have dry, not oily

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, Dr. Lee doesn't recommend using petroleum jelly. "It’s a safe product to use as frequently as you want if you're not acne-prone and once you determine that it's not causing breakouts," she says. "It can clog your pores and promote breakouts or the development of milia, which are really superficial tiny cysts." Other skin types really benefit from using it as a spot treatment for super-dry skin.

Let's talk more about a dermatologist's skin-care routine:

Dry skin is no match for these editor-approved moisturizing masks. Then check out the 'Swiss army knife' beauty products that can do it all for dry skin.

Originally posted November 19, 2019, updated March 5, 2021

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