What is Petrolatum
jelly, vaseline, or soft paraffin is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons that is used as a topical ointment for its skin healing properties.
Petrolatum is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) as an approved Over-The-Counter (OTC) skin protectant and is widely used in cosmetic skin care.
It is commonly referred to as Vaseline as a genericised trademark.
Petrolatum is a flammable, semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons, having a melting-point usually ranging from a little below to a few degrees above 100°F (37 °C). It is colorless, or of a pale yellow color
(when not highly distilled), translucent, and devoid of taste and smell when pure. It does not oxidize on exposure to the air, and is not readily acted on by chemical reagents. It is insoluble in water. It
is soluble in chloroform, benzene, carbon disulfide and oil of turpentine.
There is a common misconception (resulting from the similar feel they produce when applied to human skin) that petroleum
jelly and glycerol (glycerine) are physically similar. While petroleum is a non-polar hydrocarbon hydrophobic (water-repelling), insoluble in water, glycerol (not a hydrocarbon but an alcohol) is the
opposite: it is so strongly hydrophilic (water-attracting) that by continuous absorption of moisture from the air, it produces the feeling of wetness on the skin, similar to the greasiness produced by
petroleum jelly. The feeling is similar, but petroleum jelly repels water, and glycerine attracts it.
Petrolatum was primarily used as an ointment for scrapes, burns, and cuts, but physicians
have shown that Vaseline has no medicinal effect or any effect on the blistering process, nor is it absorbed by the skin. Petrolatum's effectiveness in accelerating wound healing stems from its sealing
effect on cuts and burns, which inhibits germs from getting into the wound and keeps the injured area supple by preventing the skin's moisture from evaporating.
However, after becoming a medicine
chest staple, consumers began to use Petrolatum for a myriad of ailments and cosmetic uses including chapped hands or lips, toenail fungus, nosebleeds, diaper rash, chest colds, and even to remove makeup or
stains from furniture. It is even used as trout bait. There are uses for it for pets including stopping fungi from developing on aquatic turtles' shells and to keep cats from making messes when they cough up
furballs. In the first part of the twentieth century, petrolatum, either pure or as an ingredient, was also popular as a hair pomade. When used in a 50/50 mixture with pure beeswax, it makes an effective
Most petroleum jelly today is consumed as an ingredient in skin lotions and cosmetics. Although petrolatum is less expensive than glycerol, the most common active lubricating ingredient
in skin lotion, it is not used in expensive lotions because it is not absorbed into the skin, resulting in a greasy feel.
Petroleum jelly is used to moisten plasticine, as part of a mix of
hydrocarbons including greater (paraffin wax) and lesser (mineral oil) molecular weights.
It can also be used as tinder when coated on cotton balls. The combination can easily be ignited by a fire
starter, burning hot and long, and the petroleum keeps the cotton from getting wet.
It can be used as a quick method of shining shoes, when spread evenly onto the surface to create a shiny layer.