What Is Petroleum Jelly?
Petroleum jelly, commonly known by the most popular brandname Vaseline, is a derivative of oil refining. Originally found coating the bottom of oil rigs in the mid-1800s, it’s a byproduct of the oil industry and therefore an unsustainable resource (read: not eco-friendly). It’s commonly used topically to cure everything from dehydrated, flakey skin to diaper rash.
Why Is It Potentially Harmful?
Though generally regarded as safe, the components that are removed from the oil during the refining process of petroleum jelly are carcinogenic in some cases. “Vaseline supposedly has all of these [components] removed,” Dr. Dattner says. “But there are probably plenty of petroleum jelly imitators, and one doesn’t always know the extent that they’re removed.” Denno also points out that, since petroleum jelly can be found in “different grades of purity,” you don’t always know how non-toxic your petroleum jelly-based beauty products really are. (For the record, Vaseline is highly-refined, triple-purified and regarded as non-carcinogenic.)
As for your skin? According to Denno, Petroleum jelly can create the illusion of moisturized, hydrated skin, all the while suffocating your pores. It’s water-repellant and not water-soluble, meaning it merely seals the barrier so that moisture does not leave the skin. So while you might feel the instant gratification of a softened surface, you’re actually drying out your pores by keeping out air and moisture. What’s more, the thick texture makes it difficult to cleanse from the skin, so never slather Vaseline on an unwashed face if you want to avoid breakouts. “It essentially seals in the dirt,” he said. (Vaseline says on its website that its product is non-comedogenic, which means that the product does not itself block pores.)
Pros: The classic tube gets props for combining both protective and moisturizing ingredients, with aloe and vitamin E for hydration and white petrolatum (petroleum) to keep out the elements. It also scores points for convenience (no finger dipping) and portability. Plus the SPF versions protect against sun damage.
Cons: “Many of the ingredients are considered potentially toxic,” warns Shillington, including propylparaben, a preservative linked to fertility problems and breast cancer. “It also contains mineral oil, which can block the absorption and limit the efficacy of the moisturizing ingredients.” Fun flavors like cherry and pumpkin pie may smell good, but they can encourage lip licking, which irritates and dries out lips, Carroll notes. (Here’s the most toxic stuff in your drugstore makeup—and 8 natural brands to try instead.)
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Coconut oil wins for its one-two punch: It both moisturizes and protects. While it can be high-maintenance to divvy up and cart around, it’s certainly the most natural option and feels the best on your lips. Opt for virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, and contains more antioxidants than the refined stuff.
In 1945, the Austrian physician René Spitz investigated an orphanage that took extra care to make sure its infants were not infected with disease. The children received first-class nutrition and medical care, but they were barely touched, to minimize their contact with germs. The approach was a catastrophe. Thirty-seven percent of the babies died before reaching age 2.
It turns out that empathetic physical contact is essential for life. Intimate touch engages the emotions and wires the fibers of the brain together.
The power of this kind of loving touch is long lasting. The famous Grant Study investigated a set of men who had gone to Harvard in the 1940s. The men who grew up in loving homes earned 50 percent more over the course of their careers than those from loveless ones. They suffered from far less chronic illness and much lower rates of dementia in old age. A loving home was the best predictor of life outcomes.
If the power of loving touch is astounding, the power of invasive touch is horrific. Christie Kim of N.Y.U. surveyed the research literature on victims of child sexual abuse. The victims experience higher levels of anxiety throughout their lifetimes. They report higher levels of depression across the decades and higher levels of self-blame. They are more than twice as likely to experience sexual victimization again.