Recently, I had a client who told me there’s a “Chicago thing” where people coat their skin with Vaseline after showering to prevent dryness. Even though she uses that technique, she complains of dry skin.
Why Vaseline Won’t Hydrate
Vaseline contains petroleum jelly, a specific type of substance made from a blend of waxes and oils. It is commonly used as a topical barrier to prevent water (moisture) from entering or leaving the skin.
However, when used liberally, petroleum jelly may create the illusion of having moisturized or hydrated skin while actually clogging your pores, essentially creating a watertight barrier. This prevents air and water from entering or exiting the skin. Furthermore, because of its thick texture, it is difficult to fully remove from the skin.
Vaseline is often used on chapped lips which makes them look shiny, slippery, and appear to be hydrated. However, an ointment containing something like shea butter would allow for better penetration by not blocking the transfer of moisture in and out. Shea butter gives longer-lasting moisture on the lips because it provides for better penetration of beneficial ingredients.
People suffering from skin conditions, such as acne, should actively avoid using petroleum jelly products. Vaseline and other similar compounds essentially seal in dirt, exacerbating breakouts.
How Do Products Get Absorbed into the Skin
Like dissolves like: this simple rule explains how some products are able to penetrate our skin and become absorbed while others never breach the surface. Our skin is composed of many layers of dead cells that are coated with an oily wax (sebum). In order to get past this barrier, a substance must be oil-based, very small, or lipid-soluble. The best moisturizers are able to penetrate the skin, bring in moisture, and prevent additional moisture from escaping.
So how do we hydrate our skin effectively?
Emollients, such as essential fatty acids, shea butter, and sweet almond oil are great at accomplishing this. Other great hydrators include hyaluronic acid and ceramides. Hyaluronic acid can absorb almost 1,000 times more water than its own weight. This quick, effective hydrator keeps your collagen and elastin fibers moist and functional, leading to healthy, supple skin. Ceramides are waxy lipid molecules that naturally live in our skin, predominantly within cell membranes. They essentially function to hold our cells together and protect against dehydration and environmental pollutants.
Here is a list of healthy and effective products to try: