If you’re living in a place without a jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly in the bathroom cabinet, what are you doing here? And when are you heading back to your home planet?
From its invention by chemist Robert Chesebrough in 1870 to its current starring role in the K-beauty routine known as slugging (more on that in a bit), Vaseline is a product that seems perfectly designed to take the best possible care of our too, too fragile human flesh.
We talked to beauty experts, moms, dermatologists and nail artists, and all are fans of the brand that’s become what’s known as a proprietary eponym, like Kleenex and Q-tips. (Plenty of generic versions of petroleum jelly also are available.) These die-hards shared their thoughts and offered some savvy do’s and don’ts for getting the most out of a product that’s been beloved for more than 150 years.
Why it’s great
“Vaseline is perhaps the best deal at the drugstore,” Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, told HuffPost. “It can be used from your nose to your toes, and it’s particularly useful for areas like the elbows, knees or feet. It can even be applied around the eye area or cuticles.”
“It’s one of the most inexpensive and effective emollients available,” dermatologist Uchenna Okereke said. “It’s a highly refined, safe and hypoallergenic product that’s known as occlusive, which means it helps to lock moisture in, particularly after bathing.”
Early memories of “the slather”
“As a young African American woman, I vividly remember Vaseline being in every cabinet in the house,” dermatologist DiAnne Davis said. “It was always a staple for moisturizing the skin and making everything feel nice and smooth.”
Dermatologist Caroline Robinson remembers it being used by the women in her family for generations. “I grew up in Chicago, and my mom would rub it in my face to protect against wind burn during the harsh winter months,” she said.
“My mom would apply it all over my face and body immediately after baths,” Okereke said. “It was like clockwork every night — bath, Vaseline, pajamas. My mom was heavy-handed with her application, which left my face pretty shiny. I hated that,” she said with a laugh.
And now there’s slugging
Slugging is a K-beauty skin care trend that calls for coating your entire face in Vaseline. It’s most often a nighttime routine intended to “seal in” any of the potions, serums and elixirs you’ve already applied. But it might not be as of-the-moment as beauty bloggers would have you believe.
For some of us, slugging has been happening for years. “My mom — and most Black mothers — have been slugging their children’s faces since before it was trendy,” Okereke said.
Dermatologist Angela Kim described her slugging routine: “I like to put on a thin layer as the last step in my skin care, to seal the moisture and active ingredients of my skin care products so they last throughout the night. In the morning, I wake up with soft, glowing, hydrated skin.”
Lupe Viayra, co-founder of Laruce Beauty, ups her slugging game by warming a small amount of Vaseline to use as a “topcoat” for other skin products. “Not only does it protect those products, but it also protects your skin’s moisture barrier,” she explained.
Zeichner did offer a few slugging cautions: “Vaseline contains purified petrolatum, which should not cause breakouts, but may leave your skin feeling heavy or sticky. I don’t typically recommend slugging to people who have oily or acne-prone skin. Finally, don’t apply Vaseline over potentially irritating active ingredients like retinol or hydroxy acids.”
How to use it
“Do apply it on damp skin, if possible, because that really helps seal in moisture,” Okereke said. “And it’s so effective and safe that you shouldn’t be afraid to use it liberally.”
What are some of her favorite uses? “It helps with cuts and scrapes, functions as a dry spot treatment, helps treat diaper rash, prevents chafing, and soothes dry, cracked skin around the nails. The uses for Vaseline are endless, and that’s why I love it.”
“I use it as an overnight treatment for dry hands,” nail artist Natalie Minerva said. “I apply a generous amount of it on my hands and put on cloth gloves, then try to sleep with them on overnight. If I can’t make it all night with the gloves on, even a couple hours helps a lot.”
It’s always been an equal-opportunity helper for all kinds of skin. “As a person of ethnic skin, I tend to get skin discolorations called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation after I get any cuts, scrapes or pimples,” Kim said. “I wash those troubled areas with gentle soap and water, then apply Vaseline, which helps my wounds heal better, with less skin discoloration.”
Beauty’s best friend
One of Vaseline’s most popular beauty uses is on lips, and Okereke explained why: “Our lips don’t have oil glands in them, and as a result they can get very dry. Luckily, Vaseline helps address this.”
“Using a thin layer of Vaseline also helps treat skin peeling or discoloration from chemical peels or retinoids,” Kim said. “And, for a game-changing makeup look without the hassle of makeup, groom your eyebrows or crimp your eyelashes with Vaseline.”
While many people love its beauty applications, Vaseline also is a workhorse at dermatology practices. “During my medical and dermatologic training, I learned that many people wrongly believe that leaving a wound open to the air results in better or faster healing,” Robinson said. “The truth is that this approach often results in scabbing, making it difficult for new skin cells to migrate across the wound. To help wounds heal and stay hydrated, I use Vaseline on patient wounds.”
“In my practice, wounds, biopsy and surgical sites are covered with Vaseline and a dressing,” Kim said. Aftercare instructions include, you guessed it, more Vaseline.”
A few cautions
“Many people don’t realize it, but this product actually is non-comedogenic, which means it doesn’t clog pores,” Kim said. “But if you have very oily or acne-prone skin that is currently not under the care of a physician, talk to your dermatologist for a personalized skin care regimen before you start using Vaseline.”
One more tip from Kim: “Don’t cover a fresh immediate sunburn with it, since it can trap heat.”
Slather on the love
Still wondering if this old-timey product is right for you? “Don’t be resistant to using Vaseline,” Okereke urged. “As a dermatologist and a mother, I recommend it every day to my patients.”
Davis loves the fact that it’s so consistently problem-free for so many of her patients. “It never really irritates the skin or causes any allergic reactions,” she said. “It’s still one of the top products dermatologists across the world love to use.”
For Minerva, there’s no reason to go chasing after the next fancy wonder product — not when she has Vaseline on hand. “It’s a very nostalgic product for me, because my mom always had it in her bathroom vanity growing up,” she said. “Sometimes classic, old-school products like Vaseline are the way to go. There’s a reason they’ve stuck around for so long.”
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