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Petrolatum (more commonly known as petroleum jelly) has been considered one of the most effective moisturizing ingredients since it first became available in 1872.1 Often referred to as the “gold standard” of occlusive ingredients, petrolatum creates a physical barrier on the skin’s surface that helps trap moisture and prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL). FDA-approved for use as a skin protectant, this popular ingredient is often found in lotions and creams formulated to help relieve dry, flaky, or irritated skin.2 It’s also widely-used in many healing ointments, diaper rash creams for babies, and more.

Important Things To Know About Petrolatum in Skincare

  • Petrolatum is an FDA-approved skin protectant and moisturizing agent.2 It is available over-the-counter in its concentrated form (known as petroleum jelly), or found within various moisturizing products. Petrolatum has a waxy, rich texture and a jelly-like, semi-solid consistency. It’s considered to be a highly effective and safe moisturizing ingredient—and it’s even sometimes used for post-surgical wound care.

  • Petrolatum is classified as an occlusive moisturizer. Like other occlusives, it works by creating a physical, water-resistant barrier on top of your skin. This impermeable barrier seals in moisture, helping to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Because of this, occlusives like petrolatum can help keep your skin moist and hydrated. Research suggests that products with at least 30% petrolatum, such as CeraVe Healing Ointment, are the most effective occlusive moisturizers available.3 While technically classified as an occlusive, petrolatum also boasts emollient properties—meaning it can help give your skin a softer, smoother feel.

  • Petrolatum is an ideal moisturizer for skin that’s prone to extreme dryness. Products with at least 30% petrolatum can be used to temporarily protect and help relieve chafed, chapped, or cracked skin—and can help protect your skin from the drying effects of wind and cold weather. It's also commonly used as a skin protectant in baby ointments (like CeraVe Baby Healing Ointment) to help treat and prevent diaper rash. This is due to petrolatum’s ability to protect chafed skin due to diaper rash and help seal out wetness. When using petrolatum products, always apply per the instructions on the product label and consult with a board-certified dermatologist if further guidance is needed.

  • An excellent moisturizer and skin protectant, petrolatum is commonly used by those with dry skin, flaky skin, or skin that’s prone to cracking and chafing. It may be especially beneficial during the winter months, when the air is colder, drier, and harsher on your skin. Because skin reactions to petrolatum are generally considered uncommon, this ingredient is often found in products for babies, as well as those with sensitive and/or compromised skin. Petrolatum’s ability to form a long-lasting physical barrier on the skin also makes it a common ingredient in diaper creams.

  • Petrolatum is an effective occlusive on its own, but it can also be combined with other hydrating and skin-softening ingredients. However, it’s important to choose gentle, allergy-tested formulas that are designed with your specific skin type and skin concerns in mind. We recommend lightweight, yet intensely hydrating options that have been developed with dermatologists to be free of fragrance, dyes, or lanolin—such as CeraVe Healing Ointment.

  • While petrolatum is suitable for many skin types, its thicker consistency makes it exceptionally well-suited for dry or very dry skin. If you have sensitive dry skin, you may want to opt for a petrolatum ointment rather than a lotion. For specific questions about your skin type and how to use petrolatum in your skincare routine, we suggest consulting with a board-certified dermatologist.

  • Although highly-purified petrolatum is considered non-comedogenic, it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is unique. In general, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) doesn’t recommend applying petrolatum-based products on your face if you have acne-prone skin.4 For acne-prone skin, you may find lighter moisturizer formulas to be better suited for your skin type. If you do use petrolatum on your face—as is common practice with face slugging—be sure to consult with your dermatologist for guidance, and apply only to a clean, freshly-cleansed face.

  • Generally speaking, petrolatum can be used to moisturize and help protect many parts of the body. Because of its ability to help prevent moisture loss, it can be especially effective for use on areas prone to dryness, such as the cuticles, hands, and feet. It can also be used to help manage concerns like diaper rash and eczema on delicate baby skin.

  • Petrolatum-based products are generally the recommended choice for “slugging” on your face or body. Slugging is a skincare technique where you apply an occlusive ointment, such as CeraVe Healing Ointment, as the final step in your nighttime moisturizing routine. This is believed to promote a softer, smoother-looking “glass skin” effect that leaves your complexion appearing plump and hydrated. Learn more in our guide to slugging with CeraVe Healing Ointment.

  • Although there are many misconceptions and myths about this occlusive moisturizer, petrolatum is an FDA-approved skin protectant with a well-established history as a safe and effective cosmetic ingredient.2 When properly refined, there are no known health concerns associated with the use of petrolatum.

    Thanks to its occlusive and emollient properties, topical application of petrolatum has been proven to help soothe, protect, and moisturize skin on both the face and body. One study found petrolatum to be safe for use around the eyes, while the American Academy of Dermatology recommends it as a way to help treat diaper rash in babies.5,4

  • We recommend applying petrolatum-based products to clean, damp skin. Applying occlusive moisturizers while your skin is still damp can help trap essential moisture in your skin for long-lasting hydration. CeraVe products with petrolatum can be used daily as part of a well-rounded skincare routine for hydrated, healthy-looking skin. To create a simple nighttime regimen for dry skin using petrolatum, for example, you can begin with CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, followed by our PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion, and lastly, our Healing Ointment on very dry areas.

  • For your baby’s delicate skin, try CeraVe Baby Healing Ointment. Developed with pediatric dermatologists, this petrolatum-based ointment helps prevent and treat diaper rash. It can be applied liberally as often as needed with each diaper change after cleansing the diaper area—especially at bedtime or after prolonged exposure to wet diapers. To learn more, explore our expert advice about caring for your baby’s delicate skin.

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