Petrolatum/Mineral oils etc. – What’s all the fuss about?


Can you remember your younger years, sitting between your mums/caretakers legs, or in a chair and having your hair greased down with some good ole Blue Magic, Vaseline or Dax.  I certainly do!  Even brands like Doo Gro were highly sought after and sworn by.  Do you know what all these products have in common?  They are heavy in petrolatum/petroleum, mineral oil type ingredients.

There is a current conception in the natural hair community that products heavy in petrolatum/mineral oil are ‘bad’ for the hair.  Let’s see if we can get a quick review on what petrolatum is and why it’s receiving such negative feedback.

What is Petrolatum/Petroleum

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a lot of scientific facts about this ingredient.  Petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly or paraffin jelly) can be defined as a semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons, practically odorless and tasteless, and is obtained through the de-waxing of heavy mineral oils.  It is used in numerous industries from cosmetics to industrial.  One property of petrolatum is the fact that it is insoluble in water.  Have you ever heard the term ‘water and oil don’t mix’?  Due to this property petrolatum is seen as an occlusive moisturizer.

Definition – occlude – to close, shut, or stop up; to shut in, out or off.  (


Petrolatum’s impact on the hair/skin

Due to it’s insoluble nature, petrolatum is able to block in moisture(water) within the skin/scalp.  It is stated as having excellent occlusivity by coating the stratum corneum (a subdivision of the epidermis) and preventing rapid water loss.  Water in our body is lost through evaporation, hence the constant need to ‘refill’ our bodies with water.

If we are taking in a sufficient level of water content in our bodies therefore, petrolatum would assist in maintaining this moisture in our body or more specifically our hair by coating the cuticle/scalp with a heavy ‘film’, helping to prevent the moisture from escaping.

If we are dehydrated however, or not drinking sufficient water, our body will supply little moisture to the upper layers of our skin/scalp, and we will have to rely on moisturizing products to hydrate our scalp/hair.  If the scalp/hair is laden down with heavy petrolatum, much penetration will not occur.  We will therefore not be able to provide a sufficient amount of critical moisture that our hair needs to thrive.  The only way we will be able to ‘get rid’ of these heavy oils/substances would be to use a detergent, which strips the hair depending on it’s strength.  When the hair is stripped we then have to try and get back moisture in, and once again seal in that moisture.  Thus the cycle continues.


Concluding therefore I would say everything has to be used in moderation.  Similar to life, a balance has to be maintained.  What I think the problem is though, is the level of concentration of petrolatum in these products.  It is usually listed as one of the top 5 ingredients, which I and I think many others in the natural hair community believe is way too much.

Of course everyone has to make up their minds for them selves and different people will experience different results.  If you have been using products heavy in petrolatum maybe you could ease off a little and see if it makes a difference.

What are some of the alternatives to petrolatum you may ask?  Stay tuned for further post to come or shoot me a message on Facebook or the comments section below and I would be more than happy to assist with any of your queries.

What are your views/thoughts on products heavy in petrolatum/petroleum or mineral oils?

As always thanks for reading!

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