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Is Petroleum Jelly Bad For You?

petroleum jellyA few months ago, my then 18 month old daughter, Ysa developed an itchy rash behind her knees that her pediatrician diagnosed as eczema. We were told to stop using detergents and soaps with scents, which wasn’t an issue for us, as we only use Seventh Generation, OSEA products and Dr. Bronner’s scent-free baby soap. Our doctor then suggested that we apply petroleum jelly twice daily to the affected areas. As a concerned mom, and ingredient-conscious consumer, I decided to do some research on petroleum jelly, the so-called cure-all for everything from dry skin, to chapped lips and skin abrasions. 

Petroleum jelly, also called petrolatum, is a hydrocarbon product (a compound of hydrogen and carbon –the chief components of petroleum and natural gas) that was first discovered in the 1800’s through the process of distilling and refining the thick gel that forms on oil rigs.

Why then do we continue to make the fatty residue of petroleum oil a bathroom cabinet essential?


  • Petroleum jelly appears to soothe dry skin, sealing it off from water and air, locking in moisture under the skin.
  • Petroleum jelly moisturizes and reduces the appearance of fine lines.


  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates petrolatum at a 4, or moderately hazardous to health.
  • During the refining process that creates petroleum jelly, there is a risk of contamination from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). PAH’s are known cancer-causing toxic chemicals found in crude oil.
  • Petroleum jelly locks in moisture, but does not allow moisture to be absorbed from the atmosphere, acting as a “quick-fix,” but not a real solution to soothing dry skin.
  • Petroleum jelly can cause acne and irritate the skin because of its thick occlusive nature.
  • As it is a by-product of crude petroleum oil, a non-renewable resource, petroleum jelly has a negative environmental impact.


Screen shot 2015-07-17 at 11.24.25 AMThere are numerous natural alternatives to petroleum jelly, many of which are star ingredients in OSEA products. OSEA Eyes & Lips, Advanced Protection Cream, Atmosphere Protection Cream and Essential Hydrating Oil for face and Anti-Aging Body Balm and Ocean Lotion for body are all excellent substitutes for petroleum-based products. These products are rich in botanical and essential oils & seaweed extracts that moisturize, firm and protect skin and lips. Unlike most skincare companies, OSEA is proud to be 100% petroleum-free.

petroleum jellyNeedless to say, I did not end up using petroleum jelly to treat my daughter’s eczema. I chose a combination of oatmeal baths (blend a ⅓ cup of oats into a fine powder and sprinkle in bath), followed by a few drops of OSEA Undaria Algae Oil.  Her condition improved within a month, and ever since we’ve maintained a bedtime ritual in which we massage the oil on her legs after the bath while singing her favorite lullaby, “Good Night,” by The Beatles. It hasn’t returned since! P.S., for all you mamas out there, here’s a great tutorial for performing infant massage.

xox, nina


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