5 Ways Petroleum Jelly Will Improve Your Skin

Tyra Banks
While she's participating in a dance flash mob in this picture, model Tyra Banks shows similar enthusiasm for petroleum jelly. See more pictures of beautiful skin.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

It's Tyra Banks' biggest beauty secret and a lip balm British women can't live without: petroleum jelly (also known as petrolatum, but most of us call it by its trademark, Vaseline).

Petroleum jelly is fat. It's a purified mixture of semi-solid hydrocarbons derived from petroleum -- yes, the same petroleum used for gasoline and diesel fuels and other products such as deodorant and bubble gum. It's a staple in our medicine chests as a topical ointment and it's also used for everything from shining shoes to silencing a squeaky hinge. Petroleum jelly is an oil-based emollient (it repels water), which makes it a long-lasting lubricant to smooth and protect rough and dry skin. How? Emollients help to replace lipids by filling in gaps in between skin cells. The result? Soft, well-hydrated skin. Here we have five ways petroleum jelly helps to improve skin, beginning feet first.


5: Fancy Feet

Plagued by dry, cracked feet? A pedicure may be the first thing you think of but all you really need is a jar of petroleum jelly, a pair of socks and a good night's sleep. Smooth a thin layer of ointment on the top and bottom of each foot before going to bed (the socks help keep the jelly on your feet, not your sheets) and wake up in the morning to find hard skin has been softened and cracks gone. By healing dry, cracked and calloused skin, feet become more resistant to blistering and hot spots.

Similarly petroleum jelly can help your hands, next.


4: Help Your Hands

Our skin naturally has a mixture of oils (epidermal lipids) and water to help keep it soft but too much hand washing, a skin disease such as eczema or just normal aging can strip this protection and cause dry, irritated skin -- especially on our hands. The oils in petroleum jelly help to seal in moisture and the thick ointment stays on the surface of the skin longer than water-based lotions, promoting longer healing. Worried about greasy residue? Rub a small amount of jelly onto hands and cuticles until it soaks in and save the slathering for overnight when you can cover your hands with cotton gloves.

It's not just hands and feet that can benefit from emollients. Keep your whole body smooth and supple, next.


3: Smooth and Supple Skin

When the external layer of our skin -- the stratum corneum, part of the epidermis -- becomes dry, chapped and itchy, it loses its ability to act as a protective barrier. Skin becomes prone to cracks, sensitivity and even infection. Pure petroleum-based ointments are hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic, nonirritating, nonsensitizing and contain no added colors or fragrances -- all of which makes these moisturizers good for babies (on diaper rash), adults and everyone in between. Daily use on our bodies not only heals dry skin by sealing in moisture but protects skin from further damage by acting like a barrier against the elements.

To get the most bang from petroleum jelly, add it to a daily skin care routine, best used as a moisturizer applied to damp skin after a shower.


2: About Face

As we age, our skin gets thinner and drier, two descriptions no one ever wants to apply to his or her face, for sure. Some anti-aging products on the market, usually those that contain retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acid, can make dry, irritated skin worse. As part of a skin care regimen for mature skin, petroleum jelly can help soothe dryness and flakiness, as well as help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (it's not going to take away wrinkles, but it will make them less noticeable). Use it as a daily moisturizer, daily makeup remover and even as a way to prevent wind burn.

Be careful to only use heavy oil-based moisturizers on excessively dry skin -- if your face is normal or normal to oily, use the petroleum jelly everywhere but here.


1: Heal Wounds

Petroleum jelly plays an important role in wound care, in minor and major injuries.

As long as they're kept clean, minor cuts and scrapes generally heal just fine without treatment, but petroleum jelly or an antibacterial ointment can help speed things up and possibly prevent or minimize scarring.


When it comes to larger wounds, keeping the moisture level similar to that of healthy skin gives the skin its best chances of healing. Clinical studies have found that when wounds are kept moist they heal more quickly than those exposed to the air, which has a drying effect. Moisture also decreases inflammation and minimizes infection rates. This idea is called moist wound healing, and can be as simple as keeping a wound clean, covered with petroleum jelly and bandage.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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