What do you think of when you hear the words “petroleum jelly”? You probably imagine a plastic tub of Vaseline, how it’s smooth yet sticky, or maybe how your mom or dad thought of it as a cure-all. Or, you may imagine black oil being drawn from ground (yuck!)
Chances are you probably have a jar of petroleum jelly in your home right now, but do you know what it is?
What is petroleum jelly?
Originally discovered in 1859, petroleum jelly is a translucent jelly made of a mixture of hydrocarbons (compounds of hydrogen and carbon).
In the mid-1800s, oil rig workers noticed a black, waxy substance gathering on the rigs that caused malfunctions. They began using it for cuts & burns, thinking that it sped up the healing process. Robert Chesebrough, a British chemist, took samples of this residue and refined it in hopes of creating a commercial product. In 1865, he patented his process, naming the refined petroleum jelly Wonder Jelly, which later became known as Vaseline.
What is petroleum jelly used for?
Those oil workers were right! Petroleum jelly is often used as a lubricant or ointment. Its main ingredient, white petroleum, is a mixture of various non-polar hydrophobic hydrocarbons and is insoluble in water, making it a great healing agent; it helps skin heal and retain moisture by sealing skin with a water-protective barrier. The emollient properties of petrolatum makes it a go-to for those suffering from dry, cracked skin.
Petroleum jelly can also be used as a makeup remover, particularly for eye makeup. The oil in petroleum jelly effectively dissolves the chemicals used in eyeliners, massacres, and eye shadows, including those in waterproof versions, and is safe enough to use around the sensitive and delicate eye area. It also doesn’t clog pores and rarely causes skin reactions, even for those of us with sensitive skin.
Is petroleum jelly safe?
While a jar of petroleum jelly can be found in virtually every household in the United States, some consumers have concerns about whether or not petroleum jelly is safe to use. A common myth is that petroleum jelly is a dangerous chemical byproduct of petroleum. However, raw petroleum is not the same as petroleum jelly. Refined USP petroleum jelly has been through a purifying process and meets the safety standards set by the FDA.
The USP also requires that petroleum products must meet certain criteria. At PSI, we are able to perform many of the USP standard analyses. Some of these include specific gravity, melting point, acidity, residue on ignition, solubility, organic acid content, and residual solvents content.
With all of the purification and testing that petroleum jelly is required to go through, you can rest assured that the Vaseline you are using is harmless.
At Polymer Solutions, our curiosity doesn’t stop when we leave the lab. We are constantly wondering about the world around us and we enjoy exploring the science behind everyday products that consumers might not think twice about. We have blogged about items ranging from gum to dry erase markers to dishwasher pods.
What everyday items are you curious about? Let us know in the comments below and we might feature it in an upcoming blog post!