Petroleum jelly, also called petrolatum or soft paraffin is a semi solid mixture of hydrocarbons. It was first found in 1859, by some oil rig workers. This paraffin like substance would often clog the drills of the workers, affecting the drilling operation. Some of them came up with the idea of applying this substance on cuts and wounds. This is how its tremendous medicinal and healing properties were discovered. People considered it as a 'cure all' or miracle medicine. However, when scientists probed into the so-called miracle properties of this substance, it was found that petrolatum possesses no extraordinary therapeutic properties. Commercially available petroleum jelly is highly refined and sold as white petroleum jelly under different brand names.
Properties of White Petroleum Jelly
White petroleum jelly is a semi solid, translucent substance. It comprises mineral oils and micro-crystalline wax. It is much lighter in color than crude petroleum jelly. It is nearly odorless and has a melting point jut above the body temperature. This is the reason why it actually melts when applied on the skin. It is water insoluble and has strong hydrophobic (water repelling) properties. It is often compared with glycerol, which is hydrophilic. However, glycerol is an alcohol while white petroleum jelly is a hydrocarbon. Petroleum jelly does not oxidize upon exposure to air, which makes it a good quality lubricant.
White Petroleum Jelly Uses
The oldest brand of white petroleum jelly, Vaseline was promoted as an ointment for burns, scrapes and other minor wounds. Although, petroleum jelly does not possesses any medicinal properties, it does help in healing wounds by sealing them. The hydrophobic property of the petroleum jelly helps to seal the cut, wound and trap the moisture inside. This prevents bacterial entry from the outside. As a result, the wound is protected from possible infections. This in return accelerates the healing process. The most popular use of white petroleum jelly includes treating chapped lips, nose and hands. It is used for treating toenail fungus and rash. It is also used for household cleaning as it easily removes makeup stains from furniture. Another household use of petroleum jelly includes leather cleaning and softening leather goods. Its use for personal lubrication and for softening the cuticles is also well-known. Moreover, it used as anal lubricant in people suffering from hemorrhoids or fissures, to facilitate easy passage of stools.
Dangers of White Petroleum Jelly
Although, white petroleum jelly is extensively used in the field of personal skin care and medicine, there are some dangers associated with the use of petroleum jelly. While petroleum jelly must not be applied on fresh burns as it tends to trap the heat inside the burn, thereby worsening it. When used around nose, it may lead to a condition called lipid pneumonia, which occurs due to inhalation of lipids(fats). It also deters the natural ability of nose to scrub air while inhaling which may contribute to lung infections. The mineral oils present in petroleum jelly supposedly possess carcinogenic properties. White petroleum jelly is also considered as comedogenic, as it tends to clog pores, leading to acne breakouts. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that it contributes to acne.
White petroleum jelly is one of the most popular skin ointments used worldwide. It is cheap and easily available, which makes it a must have in every household. However, its usage should be limited only to treat minor skin irritations. One must not rely on it for treating severe skin problems or fresh cuts and wounds.