Last Updated on November 21, 2022 by The Filtery
Ahhh, petroleum jelly—the multi-purpose balm that’s been used by millions as everything from body lotion to diaper rash cream, from scar treatment to chapped lips, and more.
But despite its wide use, petroleum jelly may not actually be the best thing for your skin, overall health, or the environment. In the article, we’re talking about why that is… and then giving your our favorite natural, organic, and non-toxic petroleum jelly alternatives to use instead.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient standards.
First Things First: What Even Is Petroleum Jelly?
Petroleum jelly is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons. As the name indicates, this jelly-like balm is made out of, well, petroleum! Petroleum is a byproduct of crude oil (which should be our first indication that it’s probably not great for human or environmental health).
According to Wikipedia, several different people groups discovered various types of gel oils at different points in history—from Marco Polo in 1273, to the Native Americans in the early 1400s, to oil rig workers in the mid-1800s.
One of the main reasons why everyone started using petroleum jelly for skincare purposes is because of its ability to hold in moisture and create a sort of waterproof-like barrier on the skin.
What’s the Difference Between Vaseline and Petroleum Jelly?
Vaseline is to petroleum jelly as Kleenex is to tissue. Vaseline is actually just a brand of petroleum jelly. Started in 1870, it was the first commercially produced brand of petroleum jelly.
Other well-known brands that manufacture petroleum jelly products include Aquaphor, Carmex, Neosporin, Chapstick, Blistex, and more.
Petroleum vs. Petrolatum (+ Other Names for Petroleum)
Petroleum jelly and petrolatum are actually the same thing. You’ll often see “petrolatum” rather than “petroleum jelly” listed on the ingredient labels of moisturizers and lotions, lip balms and lipsticks, deodorants and cosmetics, and more.
Other names you might see include mineral oil, soft paraffin, liquid paraffin, or paraffin oil. (We’ve talked about the problem with paraffin before, in our guide to non-toxic candles.)
It’s also worth nothing that all of these different ingredients can be hidden under the “fragrance” or “parfum” label. That means that your personal care products could contain petroleum products without them even being listed on the label. This is one of the reasons why here at The Filtery, we try our hardest to completely avoid products with “fragrance” in them. You can learn more about this fragrance loophole right here.
(Also, a side note: the term “mineral oil” is kind of confusing. Petroleum doesn’t technically meet the definition of a “mineral,” even though it is “mined.” Even though “mineral oil” sounds better than “petroleum,” it’s really the same thing.)
Is Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly Actually Good for Your Skin?
Despite the fact that petroleum jelly has been and still is widely used for a variety of different purposes, there are a few problems with the substance:
- First, using petroleum jelly skin-sealing balm is not always a great idea because it can block pores and trap bacteria, preventing the skin from healing properly and potentially even causing infection.
- Petroleum jelly doesn’t actually moisturize the skin either—it pretty much just sits there on the surface of the skin until it wears off, giving the appearance of moisturization in the meantime. (This is why you may have noticed that many popular lip balm brands don’t actually make your lips less chapped and why you have to keep re-applying!)
- Petroleum jelly can cause exogenous lipoid pneumonia, which is basically where small amounts of jelly are inhaled and then enter the lungs (where they cannot be broken down by the body) and build up over time. This can lead to lung inflammation, coughing, and shortness of breath. This is why you should not use petroleum jelly on the inside of your nose, especially as a regular habit.
- As a non-renewable resource and byproduct of the oil refining process, petroleum jelly is not sustainable or eco-friendly.
- But the main concern with petroleum jelly when it comes to human health has to do with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
PAHs occur naturally in unrefined petroleum. They are linked to cancer development and have been listed as a possible or probable carcinogen by:
- The American Cancer Society
- The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services National Toxicology Program (NTP)
- The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
You can check out this list from Breast Cancer Prevention Partners if you want to dig into some more of the research connecting PAHs to cancer.
But, it’s not just cancer.
- PAHs are also suspected to be endocrine disruptors, which means they can mess with one’s hormones and possibly lead to things like decreased fertility and other health issues.
- Additionally, according to the CDC, certain PAHs can also affect other bodily systems such as the blood, immune system, liver, spleen, kidneys, developing fetus, lungs, and more.
So where does petroleum jelly come into the picture? If and when petroleum is properly refined and turned into petroleum jelly, it actually shouldn’t pose that much of a threat to human health. The problem, however, is that petrolatum/petroleum jelly is more often than not minimally refined and therefore is often contaminated with these PAHs. This is especially the case in the U.S., where there are no requirements on refinement in the petroleum used in personal care products. By contrast, the “EU mandates that for cosmetic use, the full refining history of the petrolatum must be known and proven to be non-carcinogenic.”
This is why it is not only PAHs themselves that have been put on various hazard lists, but also the specific products we’re discussing here, like petrolatum and mineral oils:
- The American Cancer Society has “untreated or mildly treated” mineral oils on their list of known and probable carcinogens.
- In Canada, petrolatum is classified as “a high human health priority” and as “expected to be toxic or harmful” on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List.
- The Haz-Map list (a database that was developed by a group of doctors and researchers) also has “untreated and mildly treated” mineral oils listed as carcinogenic.
- You’ll also find “mineral oils” listed on the NTP and IARC lists mentioned above as well.
What To Use Instead of Petroleum Jelly
The good news is that there are SO many great, natural alternatives to petroleum jelly. These include things like:
- Shea Butter
- Cocoa Butter
- Avocado Oil
- Olive Oil
- Jojoba Oil
- Coconut Oil
- And more
Not only are these ingredients natural, renewable, and safer, but they can also actually be absorbed into your skin. With their vitamins, fatty acids, and other nutrients, they can actually moisturize your skin while also allowing your skin to breathe and heal itself.
The Best Petroleum Jelly Alternatives
So now that we know why petroleum jelly is best avoided, let’s talk about what to use instead! Below are our favorite multi-purpose balms to use instead of Vaseline. Not only are these brands free of petrolatum and mineral oils, but they’re also free of other toxic ingredients like phthalates and more.
P.S. The following petroleum jelly substitutes are made with beeswax, so they are not vegan. If you’d prefer some options that are completely free of any animal products, just scroll down!
P.S. If you’re specifically looking for petroleum-free lip balms, check out this article.
Price: $12.99 for 3.4 oz. tube
This is one of our absolute favorite petroleum jelly alternatives. It comes with seals from USDA Organic as well as the National Eczema Association. If you really love that kind of thick and jelly texture of Vaseline, the texture of this balm comes really close to it.
It’s suitable for babies, kids, and adults and can be used as a hand cream, lip balm, or all-over moisturizer for whatever part of your body is dry, scratchy, and in need of some TLC.
Price: $49.99 for a 9 oz. jar or $23.99 for a 3 oz. jar
Waxlene’s Multi-Purpose Ointment is made with just four natural ingredients: organic beeswax, organic soy oil, organic rosemary oil, and natural vitamin E oil. It’s specifically formulated for people with eczema and psoriasis-prone skin, and you can see lots of photos on their website of people with real skin concerns experiencing vast improvement after using Waxelene.
This organic vaseline alternative is available in glass jars and tubes of various sizes, so you can purchase what works best for you, your family, your budget, and your travel needs.
Waxlene is also certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny and is USDA certified organic.
Somebody (previously known as Shea Brand) carries a collection of powerful shea butter moisturizers that come in blends like lavender, jasmine, unscented, and more. These ingredient lists are super simple: they include organic shea butter, botanical extracts, and vitamin E.
For those age 18 and up, they also have a CBD version to provide some extra help for aches and pains. This cruelty-free and vegan CBD balm uses (many organic) ingredients like shea butter, hemp, and eucalyptus oil to not only soothe the skin but also provide natural relief to the muscles underneath.
(P.S. These balms are vegan as well!)
Price: $7.99 for a 2 oz jar
You might know Dr. Bronner’s because of their classic all-purpose castile soap. But they also have two varieties of “Magic Balm” — a menthol version and an unscented version.
This USDA certified organic balm is made with non-GMO and fair trade ingredients like avocado oil, jojoba, beeswax, hemp, and more.
(You can sometimes find Dr. Bronner’s Magic Balm in big box stores like Target as well.)
Price: $50 for 3 oz. tube
This all-over body oil is on the pricier side, but it’s a fan favorite. It can be used as a general body lotion, as a dry nose healer, as a shaving cream or aftershave moisturizer, as a makeup remover, or as hair oil.
The Goe Oil uses 28 naturally-derived ingredients, including rosehip, hemp, avocado oil, and more.
Price: $27 for 1 oz
Although it can technically be used all over your body, this super-moisturizing balm is specifically formulated to soften heels and hard calluses using nourishing ingredients like baobab oil, cupuacu butter, and essential oils to leave your feet smelling fresh.
Price: $18 for 2 oz
Using ingredients like coconut oil, beeswax, calendula, and marshmallow root, this multi-tasking, nourishing, all-purpose balm can be used for all types of skin concerns. And for the littlest family members, Zeo Organics also makes a Diaper Balm (which has a similar formulation) to help soothe diaper rashes, eczema, and other skin issues.
Earth Mama Organics has a really awesome collection of affordable balms that serve different purposes for new moms and their babies. Their Organic Baby Face Nose & Cheek Balm is great for “drooling chins and dripping noses” and their Skin & Scar Balm is made to help reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks. They also have a Perineal Balm, Diaper Balm, and Nipple Butter (which comes in both vegan and non-vegan varieties).
These awesome healthy petroleum jelly alternatives come with a handful of third-party certifications, including EWG Verified, USDA Organic, Non-GMO, and Leaping Bunny.
Price: $49 for 1.8 oz jar
This waterless balm can be used as a face mask, makeup remover, and/or moisturizer. It contains chia seed, which carries a rich source of Omega-3s to help nourish and hydrate the skin.
This Vaseline substitute is fragrance-free, dermatologist-tested, certified cruelty-free by PETA, and certified natural and organic by ECOCERT®. One Love Organics also has a Botanical E Eye Balm if you’re looking for something that’s specifically targeted toward keeping the eyes looking and feeling young and healthy.
Price: $98 for 1.7 oz
If luxury skincare is your thing, this petroleum jelly alternative might be for you. This versatile “serum-balm” is jam-packed full of different kinds of organic oils, including rosehip, camelia, sunflower, and jojoba. You can use it for whatever areas you want or need: your face, delicate areas around the eyes, your neck and décollété, and your lips.
Price: $44 for 0.4 oz
This restorative treatment balm is also packed with soothing oils that help to moisturize sensitive skin, reduce skin inflammation, and even help with relieving headaches and bruising. In addition to the ingredients like beeswax and shea butter that the other balms have, this one also contains unique ingredients like immortelle, blue tansy, and sea buckthorn flower oil.
The Best VEGAN Petroleum Jelly Alternatives
Here are our favorite non-toxic, natural, and organic petroleum jelly substitutes that are also free of beeswax and any other animal-derived products.
Price: $10 for 2 oz
If you’re looking for a vegan petroleum jelly alternative for your baby, Pipette is a really great affordable option! Not only is it certified vegan and cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny, but it also comes with seals from EWG and the National Eczema Association.
This Baby Balm uses plant-derived squalene along with jojoba, fatty acids, and more to keep even the most sensitive skin moisturized. It’s even been clinically studied and dermatologist-tested.
Price: $18 for 2 oz
Pholk Beauty is all about “soul food for the skin.” This vegan beauty balm comes in three different scents: Moroccan Rose, Fresh Ginger, and Eucalyptus Mint. They use only a few ingredients (mango butter, jojoba butter, hemp seed oil, glycerin, and essential oils), all of which are completely edible so you can use it all over your body, including on your lips.
The texture of this balm is a little more “light and fluffy” compared to other Vaseline alternatives that are more “thick and jelly.”
Price: $14 for 1 oz stick
This is a great travel-friendly option that you can easily throw in your purse, backpack, or dopp kit. Instead of a jelly-like substance, it’s more of a solid stick that you can apply to wherever your body needs it—face, hands, elbows, etc.
It’s made with organic and fair trade ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil and is certified cruelty-free and vegan by Leaping Bunny. Not only that, but it also comes in a plastic-free paper tube which can be composted when you’re finished with it. Meow Meow Tweet is a Certified Climate Neutral company, too.
Price: $30 for 0.5 oz
This dermatologist-created multi-tasking balm is “designed to help soothe damaged, post-procedure skin.” It can be used on chapped lips, dry cuticles, tattoos, burns, cuts, scrapes, and more. This vegan and plant-based balm only includes three simple ingredients: castor seed oil, glycerin, and hydrogenated castor oil.
Price: $24 for 2 oz
This multi-purpose balm can be used for just about everything—from a daily face moisturizer to an aftersun treatment, from a hair mask to a tattoo conditioner, and much more. It’s made with a bunch of plant-based butters and oils (most of which are certified organic).
Petroleum jelly (along with petrolatum, mineral oils, and paraffin) can contain toxic PAHs. Not only that, but petroleum jelly doesn’t actually moisturize your skin; it just sits on top making you feel moisturized until it wears off.
So next time you go reaching for the Vaseline, consider grabbing one of the natural and non-toxic balms listed above to truly nourish your skin instead!