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A miracle cure for dry skin, a soothing remedy for burns and minor wounds, a quick fix for chapped lips or nose, a carrier for perfumes, essential oils, and even herbs — petroleum jelly is amazing, right? Not exactly. This substance is a creamy, odorless, greasy semisolid mixture, made from petroleum. It doesn't smell like petroleum, but it is petroleum. It has been chemically refined to give it the characteristics of a beneficial lipid-based product. Instead of using a synthetic moisturizer/lubricant/carrier, that does come with some health risks, why not use the real thing — olive oil and beeswax, or really any natural fat and wax. Find out how with this recipe for non-petroleum jelly.
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Is it Safe to Use Petroleum Jelly?
There are dozens of practical uses for petroleum jelly, from skin care to the protection of metals from oxidation. It does effectively hold in moisture and protect skin, or any other surface that it is covering, from the external environment. In and of itself this blend of refined hydrocarbons is not considered to be toxic or dangerous according to safety standards in the United States.
Should there be concern however? Is a more natural substitute a good idea? According to the popular commercial manufacturer of petroleum jelly, Vaseline, this creamy jelly melts at just above body temperature, allowing it to melt into the skin, creating a barrier of lipids. It then re-solidifies and locks in place. In this way it does keep any harmful microbes away from the skin, which is great in cases of minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. The only problem is that petroleum jelly does not have antibacterial properties — it actually traps in any bacteria that may be present, aggravating minor injuries. As a healing salve a natural antibacterial, moisturizing substance such as honey may be a better idea.
As a moisturizer, Vaseline or other petroleum jelly products could be used if you are comfortable applying refined petroleum onto your skin. It is generally accepted as safe, but there is some concern that petrolatum (petroleum jelly) could be a carcinogen. The reason for this concern is the observation that women with breast cancer seem to have higher levels of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which are common contaminants of petrolatum.
It is also potentially dangerous to inhale or ingest the hydrocarbons. Applying this jelly on the face anywhere close to the nose (to sooth a chapped nose or lips) can lead to a serious lung infection. The US National Library of Medicine warns against ingesting this petroleum product. It can cause stomach cramping, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and coughing.
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Is It Eco-Friendly?
Refined petroleum is not eco-friendly. First, it is a use of a non-renewable resource. Second, it is the use of energy to refine and process a non-renewable resource. Just like synthetic fibers, synthetic moisturizers are not good for the environment. With the abundance of plant-based and natural substances that are not only effective, but they do not pose a health risk, it makes sense for both the health of the human body and the well-being of the environment to choose natural over synthetic.
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A basic recipe for a petroleum jelly substitute combines melted beeswax with some sort of oil. Olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, and avocado oil are all wonderful for the skin. Like Vaseline, they consist of lipids, providing moisture, lubrication, and protection. Unlike petroleum jelly they are plant based and add nutrients and essential fatty acids to the mix.
Beeswax is a great cosmetic/skin-care product. It contains wax esthers, which are present in human skin. Both natural and compatible for the human body, beeswax is frequently used in lotions, lip gloss, and other beauty products as a moisturizing agent, but also as a carrier for other compounds.
To make homemade non-petroleum jelly you will need:
- 1 ounce of grated beeswax
- 1/2 cup oil
Melt the beeswax in a double boiler over a low heat. Remove from heat and add the oil. Whip the two ingredients together until cool. This will help the beeswax and oil integrate and emulsify. You can use a blender, a hand beater, a whisk, or a spoon and a strong arm. Once whipped together and cooled pour into a glass jar and seal shut. This natural jelly will keep for about a year. You can use it for chapped lips, dry skin, and anything else you would normally use petroleum jelly for.
If desired you can add essential oils to the recipe. All essential oils have antibacterial properties. Many have great skin care properties, such as lavender which also is anti-inflammatory and frankincense which promotes cellular regeneration. Add four drops to the above recipe when you add the oil to the melted wax. To make a large batch, perhaps to make eco-friendly gifts for others, double or triple the recipe. Be sure to use recycled glass jars for storage!
Most of use have used petroleum jelly at some point, or at least our mothers or grandmothers have recommended it. Understanding what exactly it is and where it falls short as a skin care and beauty product does lead one to appreciate the simple, natural alternative.
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Mayo Clinic <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/petroleum-jelly/an00947>
Medicine Plus <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002525.htm>
Natural Cosmetic Supplies <http://www.naturalcosmeticsupplies.com/bees-wax.html
photo by: Steven DePolo (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4372207826/sizes/m/in/photostream/>
photo by: Blumenbiene (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/blumenbiene/4392971128/sizes/m/in/photostream/>