Q: Every night I use a name brand of petroleum jelly (quite a bit) to take off my mascara. Do I understand we don’t know how pure this product really is?
Thank you for your common sense column. You are great.
A: Thank you.
The primary ingredient in the brand you mention that I have intentionally omitted is petroleum jelly, a derivative of oil refining. It is commonly used topically to cure almost anything – from dry skin to diaper rash. In October 2013 the Huffington Post covered the topic following enlisting a New York based dermatologist Dr. Alan Dattner who is the founder of HolisticDermatology.com. The article indicated that though generally regarded as safe, the components that are removed from the oil during the refining process of petroleum jelly are carcinogenic IN SOME CASES. The physician pointed out that different grades of purity can be found in petroleum jelly, so we don’t always know how non-toxic products with this base really are. Keep in mind, however, the article went on to indicate the brand to which you refer is highly refined, triple purified and is regarded as non-carcinogenic.
When applied to skin, petroleum jelly can create an illusion of moisturized, hydrated skin that suffocates pores. It is water repellent, not water soluble, implying it seals the barrier so moisture doesn’t leave the skin. While immediate moisturizing may be felt, the pores are actually drying out because of keeping out air and moisture. What’s more, the thick texture makes it difficult to cleanse the skin, so never slather petroleum jelly on an unwashed face because it essentially seals in the dirt.
Individuals that suffer from acne, rosacea and some other skin conditions should stay away from the product altogether, since the thick emollients can aggravate these conditions. Those who rub the product on dry, cracked noses from a cold might want to think twice also because if petroleum jelly gets into the lungs, it can cause lipid pneumonia. The practice can be used now and then, but Dr. Dattner recommends not making a daily habit of it.
So, why do people use it? It’s inexpensive and provides the perception of instant relief. Dr. Dattner indicates that an alternative is to opt for more natural alternatives but it is imperative to check labels first. He suggests products that contain beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter and cocoa butter – all which seal in moisture and don’t carry the risks of petroleum jelly. Surprisingly, there are countless brands available in most pharmacies and large chains that advertise “non-petroleum jelly” on the labels.
It appears petroleum jelly is safe, yet I cannot determine if you are doing any harm by cleansing with a petroleum product so close to your eyes. Still, there are numerous mascara and makeup removal products that might be easier to use without questions of safety. I must point out, however, that you should extensively research the ingredients in any product before you decide to make a purchase. There is no point in substituting one less than optimal product for another. One last option is to contact a local dermatologist for his or her recommendation on something that may be as safe. Good luck.