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Vaseline is the cure-all we’ve all been hoping for, the moisture messiah! Vaseline is a useless remedy that does more harm than good, drying out our lips — and it causes cancer!
Wait… which is it?
Both statements run rampant online. And it can be incredibly difficult to pare down these ChapStick-size nuggets of truth into reliable shopping decisions.
Here’s the catch: When people say “Vaseline,” they mean petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum), a mixture of mineral oils and waxes that’s been on the market for more than 150 years. It’s almost like “Kleenex” vs. “tissue,” except that Vaseline is 100 percent petroleum jelly.
While people have long used Vaseline to help heal minor cuts, scrapes, and burns as well as to moisturize dry skin, your lip skin is a different story from the rest of your body. Your lips are thinner than many other parts of your face, which makes them more vulnerable to the environment. And that slight blush? It’s likely because they’re the inside-out in-between of hair-producing skin tissue (outside) and mucous membrane (inside).
We’re all familiar with this thick jelly (probably because it’s pretty affordable and widely available) — but how does it stack up to all the noisy claims on the internet? Let’s take a look.
Short answer: No. If you’re actually talking about petroleum and not the brand, then it depends on ingredient sourcing and, to be honest, your goals. If you’re talking about Vaseline specifically, it’s how you use it that matters.
Vaseline is a type of moisturizer called an occlusive. Occlusives hold in moisture. They’re different from humectants, which draw in moisture from the air.
When you apply Vaseline to your lips, the petroleum jelly acts as a protective barrier and prevents moisture from escaping. It’s not going to add moisture.
If you lick your lips before applying Vaseline and nothing else, you might make chapped lips worse because lips don’t retain water very well. Theoretically, you could work around that by applying a moisturizer before Vaseline to really pack a hydrating punch.
Allergy research also suggests petroleum jelly may improve the skin barrier in people with eczema. A strong skin barrier means less dry, irritated skin.
In short, you can safely use Vaseline as part of your skin care routine, as many people have for a long time.
Remember: Refined white petroleum jelly — aka Vaseline — is what you’re looking for. It’s generally safe for gentle external use. Just don’t inhale it, eat it, or apply it to sensitive areas (it’s no lube).
What you don’t want is unrefined petroleum jelly. Vaseline is refined, meaning that after the petroleum jelly has been collected, it goes through a process to filter out the harmful, cancerous elements people are worried about.
This begs another question, though: Is Vaseline eco-friendly?
Not really. It’s derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel, which is obtained through oil drilling — hardly a sustainable practice in the long term. Yes, petroleum jelly is a byproduct of this drilling and is not the reason oil companies spend billions. But still, it’s not like petroleum jelly is growing on trees.
The good news is that Vaseline isn’t the only thing in the world keeping your lips soft. There are greener swaps many people swear by:
First things first: Don’t lick or pick. Soothe your lips with balms to avoid irritating them further. If your chapped lips are due to weather (like extreme cold, high winds, or super dry air), aim for tricks like heading inside, turning on a humidifier, or drinking lots of water.
For immediate relief, try exfoliating your lips. Exfoliating may seem counterproductive, but as long as your lips aren’t in too much pain and don’t have open cuts, removing dry, flaky skin will restore their softness and smoothness.
All you need to do is combine an abrasive substance, like sugar, with an emollient, like shea butter, and massage the mixture over your lips. You can also use Vaseline. Instead of mixing in an abrasive substance, rub the Vaseline over your lips with a towel or toothbrush.
After you exfoliate, apply your fave moisturizing lip balm. Balms containing the uber-moisturizing ingredients ceramide and hyaluronic fatty acids are your best bet. Top it off with Vaseline (or your fave alternative) to lock in that moisture.
Just don’t overexfoliate. Stick to a couple of times a week to avoid further damaging your lips.
Not all lip care products are good for chapped lips, no matter the sleek marketing. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you’ll want to steer clear of:
- chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid
- minty ingredients like menthol and peppermint
- any fragrances
- propyl gallate
You know your body best. If you find that something on this list doesn’t irritate you or something that “shouldn’t” does, adjust your use accordingly. A good rule of thumb: If the product is stinging or burning, it’s not working — it’s actually hurting!
Sounds extreme, but do I need to see a doctor for chapped lips?
If they don’t get better on their own after a few days, maybe. Chapped lips may be a sign of an underlying condition, like cheilitis. Plus, certain medications and supplements, like lithium and vitamin A, can also cause chapped lips. If you’re on medication, that may be another culprit.