Is petroleum jelly (Vaseline) safe?

SafeWise experts have years of firsthand experience testing the products we recommend. Learn how we test and review. We may earn money when you buy through our links.

What is petroleum jelly?

Petroleum jelly, or petrolatum, is a jelly-like substance used as a moisturising agent in personal care items like Vaseline. The main ingredient in petroleum jelly is, unsurprisingly, petroleum, but it also contains a mixture of natural waxes and mineral oils. 

While petroleum jelly can be used to help wounds heal, it can also be used to clean your dog’s paws, remove stubborn eye makeup, and help repair chapped lips during winter. It can also prevent diaper rash in infants and is a much safer alternative to talcum powder, which has been linked to instances of ovarian and lung cancer. 

Is petroleum jelly safe?

In recent years, petroleum jelly has faced some controversy. Some sources claim petroleum jelly traps bacteria underneath the skin, and can actually hinder the healing process. However, dermatologists suggest that petroleum jelly helps to prevent scabbing and keeps wounds moist. 

Petrolatum is not fully refined in the United States, meaning it can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are a group of chemicals that naturally occur in gasoline, fossil fuels, and coal. They’re carcinogenic and can cause vomiting, eye irritation, nausea, and liver damage if ingested. That said, Vaseline-branded petroleum jelly is triple-filtered, meaning it is 100% free from cancer-causing contaminants.  

Regardless of the brand, petroleum jelly is safest when used externally, and should not be eaten or used internally. This is not because petroleum jelly is unsafe, but because the waxes and oils are not fit for human consumption.

If you use petroleum jelly in and around the nose, you could be susceptible to a rare type of infection called lipoid pneumonia. When you use petroleum jelly around your nose, sometimes small amounts can travel into the windpipe and lungs. Over time, the jelly in your lungs can build up, and lead to inflammation and irritation, or lipoid pneumonia. 

While petroleum jelly is safe for external use, it's worth mentioning that it should not be used as a vaginal lubricant as this can cause serious infection. A study conducted by Reuters Health found that 40% of the women who used petroleum jelly as a vaginal lubricant contracted bacterial vaginosis. 

Final word

The bottom line is that using petroleum jelly is a safe way to soothe your cuts or wounds, and can help accelerate the healing process. Like many skincare products, it's not safe to eat or use internally. Always look for petroleum jelly that is triple-distilled (like Vaseline), and only use as directed. 

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah Geremia
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

Recent Articles