It has been a household staple for over a century, in most medicine cabinets and products we use everyday. But is petroleum jelly really all that good for you?
So what exactly is petroleum jelly?
It’s a by-product of the oil refining process. It was first discovered in the U.S.A in 1859 when workers noticed the paraffin-like substance accumulating on the oil rigs. When they rubbed it on cuts and burns, they thought it hastened the healing. The jelly was then further refined by a chemist to remove carcinogenic components, and sold as a miracle cure-all in the 1870’s.
The substance itself is a mixture of hydrocarbons, which are water-resistance, colourless and odourless. It is cheap to produce and does not oxidise when exposed to the air so it has become a popular ingredient in cosmetics and body products.
Why should I be concerned about using petroleum jelly?
Firstly, petroleum jelly is only safe to use if it has been properly refined, so always beware cheap imitations. Oil contains many carcinogenic compounds which you want to ensure you are not using on your skin. The refining process removes such carcinogens, but you want to make sure it has been performed by a reputable company.
Secondly, it is water repellent, so while it might give the impression of hydrating skin, it is actually blocking our pores, creating a barrier to air and moisture. Whilst it prevents moisture from escaping, it doesn’t allow the skin to breath and is essentially trapping toxins and dirt that the skin usually expels. That’s why petroleum jelly feels greasy and impossible to wash off with water.
And finally, as a by-product of oil refining, it is not a sustainable or eco-friendly product. From my point of view as a Naturopath and someone that cares about maintaining a healthy planet, there are so many excellent, natural alternatives that there is really no need to continue using unsustainable products.
Which brings me to...
What can I use instead?
This is the fun part! There are tons of natural alternatives to play with and see which are your favourites. There’s Cacao butter, Coconut and Avocado oil, Rosehip and even Mango Butter to name a few. We use organic Shea Butter from its native Ghana, as the base in our products for its high vitamin E content and its silky smooth feeling on the skin. We also use candelilla wax which is plant based, and is absorbed quickly avoid that sticky feeling. Our skin absorbs a great deal of what we put on it, so I figure, if you’re going to lather something on, use something which is actually beneficial for your bod! Oh, and the planet.