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Hydrating, protecting

Important Chemical Components:

Aliphatic hydrocarbons

Origin Classification:

Petrolatum is derived from petroleum, and is considered synthetic because solvents and other chemicals are used during the refining process.

Personal Care Category:

Emollient, occlusive

Recommended for the following Baumann Skin Types:

All 16 skin types can use this ingredient but it is most useful for dry and S4 sensitive (allergic) skin types.


Petrolatum is a byproduct of the process of converting petroleum to gasoline. Petroleum itself is composed of fossil plankton and algae-derived substances largely made up of hydrocarbons.1 Mineral oil and petrolatum are similar but not identical compounds. Both are produced from petroleum but through different complex processes resulting in substances made with hydrocarbons but with very different characteristics. Confusion occurs among many people regarding mineral oil and petrolatum because mineral oil is sometimes referred to as “liquid petrolatum” or “petrolatum liquid.” Mineral oil is a mixture of alkanes in the C18–C24 range while petrolatum is a mixture of C24–C30 alkanes.2


Industrial drilling for petroleum started in 1852.1 The legend goes that Robert A. Chesebrough, a kerosene dealer in the Brooklyn borough of New York City at the time, went to the Titusville, Pennsylvania oil strike to buy cheap kerosene. He heard the men talking about a fatty grease that would accumulate on the drill rods that could cure all kinds of ailments.3 He developed a way to produce petrolatum from raw crude oil, filed US Patent number 127,568 and Vaseline Petroleum Jelly was born in 1872 as a skin care product.4 Petrolatum has long been considered by many, including Kligman, to be one of the best moisturizers.5 It is recognized by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) as an over-the-counter skin protectant and there is a monograph on its use. Petrolatum is regarded as the most effective of the best occlusive ingredients, which include lanolin, silicones, and mineral oil (Table 17-1).6 As such, it is a popular cosmetic ingredient in moisturizers, creams, and baby lotions.

TABLE 17-1Pros and Cons of Petrolatum


Petrolatum is a hydrophobic mixture of long-chain aliphatic hydrocarbons with a melting point of 37°C (99°F). Aliphatic hydrocarbons are thought to protect terrestrial plants and insects.7 Studies have shown that petrolatum confers a protective effect on human skin.8 It is used to prevent diaper rash and chapped lips as well as to ...

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