What is Petroleum Jelly?

What is Petroleum Jelly?


Petroleum Jelly (aka Petrolatum)

What it is:

Petroleum jelly is a byproduct of the oil industry and the result of the distillation of a waxy petroleum material that forms on oil rigs (1).

What it does:

Originally marketed as a burn ointment, petroleum jelly is used in many personal care products as a lubricant, moisture barrier, and skin balm (2).

Why we’re featuring it today:

Petroleum jelly is included in our Honestly Free Guarantee because it may contain potentially harmful contaminants. In the European Union, petroleum jelly can only be used in cosmetics "if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen (3)." There is no such  restriction in the U.S, where, in fact, petroleum jelly is approved as an over-the-counter skin protectant. The EU  restricts the use of  petroleum jelly because it can sometimes be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (4). Some animal studies suggest that exposure to PAHs — including skin contact over extended periods of time — is associated with cancer (5).

How you can avoid it:

It’s easy! Simply avoid products that list petroleum jelly or petrolatum in the ingredients label.


  1. Petroleum jelly. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/w6355e/w6355e0p.htm
  2. Park, C. W., Jaworski, B. J., & Maclnnis, D. J. (1986). Strategic brand concept-image management. The Journal of Marketing, 135-145.
  3. European Commission. Cosmetic Directive 2003/83/EC, Annex II, Ref. 904. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://ec.europa.eu/health/endocrine_disruptors/docs/cosmetic_1223_2009_regulation_en.pdf
  4. Goodpaster, J. V., Howerton, S. B., & McGuffin, V. L. (2001). Forensic analysis of commercial petroleum products using selective fluorescence quenching. Journal of Forensic Science, 46(6), 1358-1371.
  5. ATSDR. ToxFAQs for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Sep 1996. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/TF.asp?id=121&tid=25

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.