Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum or soft paraffin, CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons (with carbon numbers mainly higher than 25), originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties. Its folkloric medicinal value as a “cure-all” has since been limited by better scientific understanding of appropriate and inappropriate uses (see uses below).
However, it is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an approved over-the-counter (OTC) skin protectant and remains widely used in cosmetic skin care. The raw material for petroleum jelly was discovered in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, United States, on some of the country’s first oil rigs. Workers disliked the paraffin-like material forming on rigs because it caused them to malfunction, but they used it on cuts and burns because it hastened healing.
Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist whose previous work of distilling fuel from the oil of sperm whales (which had been rendered obsolete by petroleum), went to Titusville to see what new materials had commercial potential. Chesebrough took the unrefined black “rod wax”, as the drillers called it, back to his laboratory to refine it and explore potential uses. Chesebrough discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel. Chesebrough patented the process of making petroleum jelly by U.S. Patent No. 127,568 in 1872.
The process involved vacuum distillation of the crude material followed by filtration of the still residue through bone char. Chesebrough traveled around New York demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product. He opened his first factory in 1870 in Brooklyn using the name Vaseline.
Chesebrough originally promoted Vaseline primarily as an ointment for scrapes, burns, and cuts, but studies have shown that Vaseline has no medicinal effect nor any effect on the blistering process, nor is it absorbed by the skin. Vaseline’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. Vaseline brand First Aid Petroleum Jelly, or carbolated petroleum jelly, containing phenol to give the jelly additional anti-bacterial effect, has been discontinued.
After Vaseline became a medicine-chest staple, consumers began to use it for myriad ailments and cosmetic purposes, including chapped hands and lips, toenail fungus, male genitalia rashes (non-STD), nosebleeds, diaper rash, chest colds, and even to remove makeup or stains from furniture. Uses for pets include stopping fungi from developing on aquatic turtles’ shells and keeping 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 moustache wax. During World War II, a variety of petroleum jelly called dark red veterinary petroleum jelly was often included in life raft survival kits. Acting as a sunscreen, it provides protection against ultraviolet rays.
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 often used by players of American football.
The jelly is applied under the eyes, and is used to keep dirt or sand out of the eyes during plays. Petrolatum is a useful material when incorporated into candle wax formulas. The petrolatum softens the overall blend, allows the candle to incorporate additional fragrance oil, and facilitates adhesion to the sidewall of glass. Industrial grade petrolatum can be combined with other materials to make effective rust proofing compounds. Petroleum jelly was formerly used as a way to pitch a spitball in baseball. Although the pitch was banned in 1920, pitchers sometimes throw “the spitter” surreptitiously.
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 is frequently applied on the face in mixed martial arts to prevent unnecessary cuts and tears from blows Petroleum jelly is commonly used as a personal lubricant. (Not recommended for use with condoms because it dissolves latex). It is used as a key ingredient for conditioners of ethnic hair. It is used in pomades to help users sculpt their hair.
It can be used to lubricate the anus if the patient is suffering from conditions like hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
The purpose of this is to allow the stool to pass through the rectum more easily and more freely in an effort to minimize any further damage to the tissue. It can also be used to lubricate the anus before taking rectal temperature. It can be used as a softener for cuticles.
It can be a treatment for chapped lips.It is sometimes spread on the teeth of beauty pageant contestants in order to prevent their lipstick from sticking to their teeth. It can be used to soften hardened leather. It can be used to finish wood, much like a mineral oil finish. It can be used as a release agent for plaster molds and castings. It can be used to coat corrosion-prone items such as metallic trinkets, non-stainless steel blades, and gun barrels prior to storage as it serves as an excellent and inexpensive water repellent.
It can be used when using a home hair dye kit, if put onto skin close to the hairline it can prevent the hair dye staining the skin. It can be used by long distance runners, who wear loose t-shirts (usually men), on their nipples to prevent chafing or bleeding caused by the shirt rubbing the nipples while running. It can be used for tinder, lightly coated on a cotton ball.
It was recommended by Porsche in the owner’s manual of their cars as a preservative for light alloy anodized Fuchs wheels to protect them against corrosion from road salts and brake dust. “Every three months (after regular cleaning) the wheels should be coated with petroleum jelly.” It was also recommended by Porsche in maintenance training documentation for lubrication (after cleaning) of “Weatherstrips on Doors, Hood, Tailgate, Sun Roof”. The publication states “…before applying a new coat of lubricant…”. “Only acid-free lubricants may be used, for example: glycerine, Vaseline, tire mounting paste, etc. These lubricants should be rubbed in and excessive lubricant wiped off with a soft cloth.”