In today’s article I’m gonna answer all of your questions about putting Vaseline on your face as a moisturizer. You will find out is Vaseline good for your face.
I think in a lot of online blogs and different skincare forums this is referred to as the slug method, but I get a ton of questions about “how do I know if putting Vaseline on my face is gonna be a good choice”, “will it break me out.”
So in today’s article I’m going to answer those types of questions.
Table of Contents
What is Vaseline?
It’s petroleum jelly or petrolatum. I use petroleum jelly and petrolatum interchangeably but they mean the same thing.
Vaseline is just the brand name. If you go into the store, like the drugstore, you can find petroleum jelly generic and it’s the same thing. You don’t necessarily need to be brand loyal. In fact petroleum jelly is often less expensive than brand name Vaseline.
There’s a lot of enthusiasm around putting it on the face. As a dermatologist, I’m enthusiastic about putting it on the face as well.
It’s one of the skincare products I most frequently recommend to people, especially people with eczema.
The reason petroleum jelly or petrolatum is so fantastic as a skin care product for the skin, such as dry skin conditions, is that no other skincare product compares to petrolatum in terms of its ability to reduce what’s called transepidermal water loss, meaning water that evaporates out of your skin and leads to dryness.
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Who Can Use Vaseline?
Who can benefit from such an occlusive ointment in their moisturizing routine?
Many people and in different situations.
It’s inevitable that at some point in everyone’s life they’re going to have an issue with their skin barrier. Things like topical medications for acne, salicylic acid, prescription retinoids, cleansing, washing the skin, even sweating can impair our skin barrier.
If you have a medical condition that affects your skin, like atopic dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema or acne or rosacea, those diseases involve an inherent skin barrier defect that drives the disease and also makes you more likely to have dry skin.
Using something very occlusive that helps to seal in transepidermal water loss can help in protecting your skin and reinforcing your skin barrier.
Also when the weather changes in the wintertime, the ambient humidity in our environment drops, the air becomes very dry and as a result, water evaporates out of our skin. We lose water a lot more easily.
If you are somebody who commutes by foot outdoors in the wintertime, cold wind can chap the skin, lead to what’s called a wind burn and that essentially leads to a lot of dryness and irritation through impairment of the skin barrier.
Using something as occlusive as petroleum jelly or Vaseline is great in these cases.
Why We Love Vaseline So Much?
Why else do we love petrolatum so so much?
It’s been a part of the U.S. pharmacopoeia since the 1880s. It has such a long-standing history of use and safety in dermatology.
There’s a lot of fear mongering among the clean beauty marketing against petrolatum that is not substantiated whatsoever.
I’m here to reassure you that petrolatum,whether it be Vaseline or any other generic brand, is so safe. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the safest things you can put on your face.
It doesn’t get absorbed into the body whatsoever and also it’s what is referred to as non sensitizing. Unlike the majority of skincare product ingredients, petroleum jelly or petrolatum does not bind to any proteins in your skin.
That’s really good.
Because when ingredients bind to proteins in your skin, then your immune system comes in and says “hey what the heck is this changing things up, I don’t like it.” And it mounts what’s called an immune response and you develop an allergy. This can lead to irritation as well.
That is something that does not happen with Vaseline because it does not bind to proteins. In other words, it is inert. It’s non-irritating, which is great. It’s so non-irritating and so non-problematic that we use it as a negative control in what’s called patch testing.
Patch testing is a type of test that we do in the dermatology clinic to determine what ingredients are coming in contact with your skin that might be causing different types of rashes.
It’s also used not only in dermatology but in other specialties of medicine as well. For treating sites that have had local surgeries or excisions.
It’s great for wound healing. It provides a nice clean seal for healing wounds to prevent bacterial things from getting into the wound. It allows the wound to stay hydrated and heal optimally.
It’s really great. I can’t tell you enough good things about Vaseline.
There is more fear mongering around petrolatum and their claims that it’s comedogenic. But I’m here to reassure you that petrolatum is actually not comedogenic, meaning it does not clog pores. That has been determined a long time ago.
I think a lot of this misinformation stems from the fact that people are confused between cosmetic petrolatum and crude petroleum in the oil refining industry.
Petrolatum that you buy in the store is what is called cosmetic grade petrolatum. It is a byproduct of dewaxing mineral oil. It is very safe.
If you were to go out to an oil refinery and put petroleum on your skin, that definitely will cause an acne rash because petroleum is contaminated with tar derivatives and tar on the skin is a known cause of acne.
That’s where I think a lot of this confusion and misinformation stems from. But cosmetic grade petrolatum that you would buy in the store is not going to be pore clogging.
Who Benefits From Using Vaseline?
Who benefits from using petrolatum on their face as a moisturizer’
This can really help if you are coping with dry skin in the wintertime, with chapped skin or if you’re somebody who has been using too many skin care products and you’re experiencing a lot of dryness, irritation and peeling.
Using petrolatum as your nighttime moisturizer can help and really strengthen your skin barrier and allow your skin to heal more expeditiously.
If you’ve just undergone a cosmetic procedure, like a resurfacing laser treatment or a peel, using petrolatum is also a good idea at that point because your skin barrier is impaired, you’ve got a lot of dryness, redness, peeling and it can help in getting you back to normal more quickly.
Obviously if you have a history of eczema and you’re experiencing a flare of eczema on your face, petrolatum is a great go to. People with eczema are at a greater risk for developing allergies to things they put on their skin, particularly when their eczema is flaring.
Using petrolatum is probably your best bet to reduce risk of problems occurring and get your skin back to where it needs to be.
Vaseline and Acne
I think the group of people who have the greatest resistance and fear around using Vaseline on their face are people with acne or oily skin.
I will reiterate that Vaseline does not clog pores. However, heavy occlusive moisturizer on the face of acne-prone individuals can trigger a flare of acne.
It’s not because they’re comedogenic, it just has to do with the nature of acne. For whatever reason, in some people, not everybody with acne, but some people with acne when they use really heavy occlusive moisturizers, it can trigger what’s called closed comedones.
A lot of people misconstrue closed comedones for milia. I hear that from time to time: does this moisturizer cause milia, or I use this moisturizer and I got a ton of milia and I stopped and they went away.
That is not likely milia. Milia is much different from closed comedones. They look similar but milia is actually true cysts.
Using moisturizers don’t trigger milia and they certainly don’t go away as soon as you stop using a particular moisturizer. They are something that often requires a procedure to get rid of or a prescription cream.
For whatever reason, using heavy moisturizers on the skin of some people can trigger closed comedones to form. If your acne prone, it’s completely reasonable to consider not doing the Vaseline.
The situation where I encourage using Vaseline, at least in the short term period, is if you are a on prescription Accutane. You are obviously going to go through a lot of dryness and peeling and as a result your skin becomes red and inflamed. Using a heavy occlusive ointment at that time is really helpful in reducing that burden of dryness.
Another situation with acne where it can be helpful, at least for a limited time, to use Vaseline on the skin is if you are using a topical medication that’s very drying and peeling and you’re having a lot of redness and irritation.
A classic example of this is going to be a Retin A. When you first start using Retin A, the skin goes through a process called retinization. There’s a lot of dryness, peeling and redness and for the most part that does not last. It typically resolves after anywhere from six weeks to three months of consistent use.
Using an occlusive ointment at that time can help. It basically protects the skin and reinforces the skin and helps it heal and recover more quickly.
Now a caveat to Vaseline on the face in people with acne who are using different acne medications topically, or really any medication that you’re using on the skin topically that’s been prescribed to you, is you don’t want to put Vaseline on and then try and put your medication on.
Because Vaseline is so occlusive, it will prevent those active ingredients from getting into your skin and they won’t work. You don’t want to do that.
Therefore I end up telling people with acne who are on a prescription retinoid to consider using Vaseline in the beginning every other night, on their off nights. I often tell people in the beginning with a topical retinoid to use it every other night while the skin starts getting used to it. On those off nights using Vaseline can definitely help when the skin is really red and peeling.
A lot of people have the compulsion when the skin is red and peeling to pick at the peeling and to try and chemically or mechanically exfoliate that peeling. That peeling is exfoliation and attempting to exfoliate gets you nowhere. That’s what makes the dryness and peeling of the retinization process even longer and even more arduous.
That is a time period where coming in with something intensive like Vaseline can definitely help get through that process.
How Do You Use Vaseline on The Face
The best way to use it is after you have cleanse your skin and it’s still damp. Then you want to put the Vaseline on immediately. I say damp, but not soaking wet.
The reason for this is that there’s nothing in Vaseline that’s going to deliver hydration to the skin or hold on to existing hydration. Putting it on immediately after you cleanse while there’s still a little bit of dampness on the surface of the skin really helps lock that in and seal it into the top layer of the skin.
You also can layer Vaseline over a hyaluronic acid serum. That way the hyaluronic acid can bind on to that water that’s still on your face after cleansing, holding on and then the Vaseline seals in the water and prevents transepidermal water loss.
That’s one way to combine things, but be careful with combining a ton of stuff and layering a ton of stuff.
An issue that you might run into is that if you’re using products that are particularly irritating, and you’re layering a bunch of stuff and then sealing it in with Vaseline, if that stuff is irritating, you’re gonna increase the irritation even more.
That’s situation where people run into a lot of problems. They may attribute it just to the Vaseline, when in reality you’ve been using too many products underneath the Vaseline.
It is very important that the skin is clean before you put the Vaseline on top because if you still have makeup on the surface of your skin or dirt, you’re gonna trap that onto the skin and drive it in and that really can cause irritation and drive acne.
It’s really important to clean the skin thoroughly, don’t just rely on a makeup wipe. That does not adequately remove the cosmetics.
Vaseline is not dangerous! It’s actually one of the safest things you could put on your skin. Please just ignore the clean beauty fear mongering.
Clean beauty fear mongering around Vaseline has been replaced with a lot of plant oils that are far more allergenic and far more likely to be associated with exacerbation of acne than good old plain petrolatum.
It has been in use since the 1880s. It has long-standing history of safety and efficacy, so don’t fall for marketing hype against good old inexpensive and effective Vaseline.
The nice thing though about Vaseline is that it’s safe because there’s nothing in it that your skin immune system could possibly be annoyed with. Plain Vaseline is actually the safest bet, the lowest risk.
No other ingredient compares to it in terms of its ability to prevent transepidermal water loss. It will reduce transepidermal water loss by 99%. No other ingredient competes with that.
I hope this answered your questions that you asked me about Vaseline.