Smooth Operator: It's Time To Stop Picking On Petrolatum
You have probably heard of it, and if not, you have definitely used it. Indeed, petrolatum, more commonly known as petroleum jelly, has been around for centuries, dating back to the mid-1800s when it was discovered in oil reserves as a natural by-product of petroleum and later put to use as a healing ointment known as Vaseline. For decades, petrolatum has been a fundamental ingredient in skin care products. This odorless, tasteless, semi-solid emollient is insoluble in water, which allows it to effectively lock moisture in the skin for hours. As an anti-irritant, it also reduces inflammation and heals overly dry or cracked skin. So, why the bad rap?
For one, petrolatum products tend to have that slick, greasy feel, which makes them impractical for application other than during your nighttime ritual (think cotton gloves and socks!). Though the majority of dermatologists out there use and recommend petrolatum products to patients suffering from eczema or severely dry skin, the inherent “ick” factor in their tactile quality is reason enough for hesitancy among users.
Secondly, the ingredient has seen much controversial press. Some are weary of the perceived risk of contamination from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), cancer-causing chemicals found in crude oil and its by-products. The truth is, there is no evidence that petrolatum, in its refined form as it is in over-the-counter skin care products, is harmful or carcinogenic. The petrolatum used in most skin care products is a pure, highly refined, pharmaceutical grade petrolatum.
People also worry about petrolatum products clogging pores or causing milia, tiny cysts that form at the base of a hair follicle or sweat gland when keratin becomes entrapped beneath the outer layer of the skin. The petrolatum used in Theraplex products has undergone a refining process by which the heavy oils and greases have been removed. The remaining petrolatum fraction provides superior moisturization and barrier protection without occluding skin. Unlike traditional petrolatums, Theraplex is non-comedogenic and won’t clog pores.
It’s high time we gave petrolatum another chance. Fortunately, modern skin care formulas have revolutionized the way we use -- and judge -- the age-old ingredient. According to Kenneth Beer, MD FAAD, an associate clinical professor at University of Miami, it’s the older formulas that are greasy and thick. (It’s August -- not necessarily the time you wish to slather a greasy substance on your skin, right?) The petrolatum in products like Theraplex HydroLotion, on the other hand, “is fractionated, which means the ‘greasy’ parts are removed and what’s left are the parts that help seal moisture,” says Dr. Beer. The unique lightweight formulation of the HydroLotion makes it ideal for head-to-toe daily use -- even on the hottest summer day. Not a typical trait for a petrolatum product, but certainly a welcome one. So you can ditch the gloves and socks for now!