Whether you are fond of slugging, prefer ointments over lightweight moisturizers, or are an occlusive addict, chances are you’ve already tried petrolatum. This waxy guy is used in all types of moisturizers, and it’s one of the best ingredients to lock moisture in, hinder water loss, and consolidate the protective barrier, which is why it became a staple in all robust skincare strategies. And now, with the plummeting temperatures, you need petrolatum more than ever to keep your skin moisturized in winter. So what exactly is petrolatum, how does it work, and how to use it for A-class results? If you’ve been pondering these questions, this article will shed some light on all your concerns you may have regarding the benefits of petrolatum for skin.
What is petrolatum?
Petrolatum (or petroleum jelly) is a substance derived from refined petroleum consisting of a mixture of mineral waxes and oils. As for skincare, petrolatum is a very effective occlusive (the most, in fact) that creates a protective film over the skin’s surface to hinder water loss. It also has emollient properties, meaning it can soften and restore the protective barrier. Though it may feel a bit greasy and sticky, petrolatum is non-comedogenic, so it doesn’t clog pores.
Petrolatum benefits for skin
Here’s how petrolatum can benefit your skin:
- Reduces moisture loss: Petrolatum is an effective occlusive, so it forms a water-repellant barrier over the skin’s surface to prevent moisture from evaporating into the atmosphere. Studies found that at a concentration of 5%, it can reduce transepidermal water loss by nearly 98%. Because of its moisture-sealing abilities, petrolatum is often used to relieve skin dehydration, a condition caused by excessive water loss. It’s also the go-to during winter or in low-humidity environments, where skin moisture tends to evaporate faster.
- Repairs skin: Due to its emollient properties, petrolatum provides an instant softening effect and works in the long run to recover the skin. Interestingly, researchers found that petrolatum also increases the levels of filaggrin and loricrin, proteins with an essential role in the formation of the epidermal barrier. More exciting still, another study found that petrolatum has the same skin-repairing effects as a cream containing ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.
- Protects: The protective film petrolatum creates over the surface not only hinders water loss but also shields the complexion against environmental aggressors, the reason FDA classifies petrolatum as a skin protectant.
- Increases product absorption: Petrolatum can increase skin penetration, therefore enhancing the absorption of products applied under the occlusive layer. In other words, what you use before petrolatum will provide enhanced benefits. While this is a good thing if we’re talking about applying a hyaluronic acid serum or humectant moisturizer, trapping retinoids or exfoliants under petrolatum can mess up the skin’s barrier. Hence, it’s best to stick with gentle actives while using occlusives.
- Antimicrobial: Petrolatum may as well act as a topical antibiotic to help prevent infection post cosmetic procedures (think chemical peels, laser resurfacing). The reason is that petrolatum can boost some peptides that possess antibacterial properties, supporting the skin to fight infection.
Is it safe?
As far as skincare is concerned, petrolatum is a safe, stable, non-irritating, and non-allergenic ingredient. It’s highly refined and purified, so it doesn’t expose the skin to harsh chemicals. Besides, it’s non-comedogenic, so it doesn’t cause breakouts nor aggravate them.
Does petrolatum penentrate the skin?
Yes, while it leaves a long-lasting protective film over the surface after application, petrolatum also penetrates the skin’s outer layer (stratum corneum), where it supports the barrier recovery process. However, it does not pass through the dermis.
Who should use it?
Overall, everyone can use petrolatum, being the perfect candidate for dry, dehydrated, and cracked skin. On the other side, those with oily and acne-prone complexions should be more cautious as petrolatum can be sticky and leave a greasy feeling.
How to use it
How to use petrolatum mostly depends on the product at hand. You can find petrolatum in different concentrations in all sorts of moisturizers, ointments, and creams, as well as in 100% concentration in Vaseline®. Although it’s safe to use two times a day, in the morning and nighttime routine, we recommend applying your petrolatum product at PM since it may be too heavy and greasy for the day. You should also use occlusives with humectants since the latter pulls water from the environment and the former traps that moisture into the skin.
Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.
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