Petrolatum, aka petroleum jelly, white petroleum or soft paraffin as it’s also known, is a derivative of petroleum. Yep, that stuff you put in your car. However all of the above are very at home in your skincare. Look on your labels and there are so many different names that you mind find in your lip balm for example – mineral oil, paraffinum liquidum – but they are basically all the same thing, pertrochemicals. Derived from petroleum; something we are definitely not keen on here at The Lip Liberation – in fact one of the main reasons behind it.

Petroleum or crude oil, is a fossil fuel so a naturally occurring substance. Large quantities of dead organisms such as sea plants and animals are buried under thousands of layers of rock, sand and mud. Fossil fuels take millions of years to form and we are running out of them. They are therefore an unsustainable source of energy – the first reason we’re not so keen about it being in our lip balm.

Yes, it is a natural substance but a yellow to black thick smelly liquid that damages the environment when burnt. It releases pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so is a major contributor to climate change, another reason we don’t like it in our balms. Did we mention oil spills?


Petrolatum is a by-product of the petroleum industry. In 1859 Robert Cheseborough went to the oil fields in Pennsylvania to try and make his fortune. He learnt about a black waxy substance that was appearing on the oil rig pumps and playing havoc with them. The oil workers were having to remove this rod wax, as they were calling it, but were then using it to heal their cuts and burns.

Cheseborough saw potential and took the substance away to experiment and see what he could develop from it. By the early 1870’s he had refined the wax into a white petrolatum or petroleum jelly as it is commonly known. He launched his invention with the trade name of Vaseline and it soon became a household name. It was believed to be a healing wonder balm with medicinal properties. It was actually a revolutionary product with numerous uses – medicinal, beauty, food, electrical insulation – the use depended on the quality of the refining process.

The refining process is incredibly important. The EU lists petrolatum as a probable carcinogen due to the contaminants found in its natural state. OK, it’s not in our balm in its natural form; before it reaches our lips it has undergone some extensive chemical and refining processes – we hope. As long as it is refined properly then it is considered safe, however do we want to use something that needs to be cleaned that much before we can use it.

Petrolatum is used today in many skincare products by many brands, it is odourless, colourless, has a long shelf life and is generally cheap. Great for the brands but what about us?  Petrolatum is not water soluble and is hydrophobic, which means it repels water. It can be described as occlusive which means it acts like a barrier, allowing nothing in and nothing out. That does make it good for protecting wounds, perhaps where the healing belief stems from. It is also used to prevent skin chaffing and chapping due its barrier properties – great for anyone wanting to swim the channel or run the marathon! However as a lip balm ingredient, its debatable.

SO many balms contain it, and SO many people use them. The instant relief on sore, dry lips can’t be argued with, but that relief just doesn’t seem to last long. That nothing in and nothing out thing might have something to do with it. No moisture is actually going in, so the lips are soon sore and dry again, and another application is needed. Much needed moisture is sometimes taken from the lower skin levels, drying lips even more, and so the cycle carries on. Within that cycle the lips are never nourished and thus the need for constant application could be described as an addiction. Sound familiar?

Even if none of the above bother you, consider this, petrolatum has no nutritional value. ZERO, none. So it’s actually doing NOTHING for your lips. Wouldn’t you rather a lovely beeswax or cocoa butter or something??

What do you think? Do like mineral oils in your lip balm?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *